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Indonesian Police Promise to Stop Islamic Vigilante Groups

Indonesia's police chief has promised to stop raids and other violent actions by Islamic vigilante groups. The promise was made earlier this week - Wednesday - at a meeting with human rights activists. They say in the last few months hard line Islamic organizations like the Islamic Defenders Front have disrupted events by political parties and minority groups and have attacked religious gatherings.

Hamid Usman with the Indonesian Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence says there have been a number of incidents of violence by Islamic vigilante groups seemingly without police intervention.

He points specifically to the hard line Islamic group Islamic Defenders Front. The group forced the cancellation of a health care rally it believed was led by the banned Indonesian Communist Party, and stormed hotels to prevent a gay and lesbian conference.

Usman also refers to other groups that have attacked Christian churches and other religious organizations. He and other human rights activists, and some members of parliament addressed these issues with Indonesian police officials.

"We would think that the violent activities could happen because of the absence of law enforcement, in particular the police. This is why we came to the police," he said. "We urged the national chief of police to take a firm action, to take a firm policy in response to a series of violence."

Usman says the human rights activists emphasized the need for police to enforce freedom of religion, the rule of law and equal treatment for minorities.

He says Indonesian National Police Chief General Bambang Hendarso Danuri admitted some local police may have been negligent because they did not want to be seen as anti-Muslim. But Danuri promised to take strong action in the future, especially during Ramadan when islamic vigilante groups have raided bars and ransacked restaurants that served alcohol.

"He guaranteed that in this coming Ramadan, there would be no violence and he guaranteed that the police will prevent any violence committed by any vigilante group against anyone," said Usman.

The national police chief told the group that he will make it known that police officers that fail to protect minorities will be fired. He said he will also try to bring in Islamic and Christians leaders to help diffuse religious tensions and promote tolerance.