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Indonesia's Ahmadiyah Sect Fears Religious Violence

Members of the Ahmadiyah community attend Friday prayers at the An-Nur Mosque in Manis Lor village, in Kuningan, West Java. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa defended the country's judicial system after a court sentenced Muslim radicals to a fe

A survey by a human-rights group says most Indonesians oppose the use of violence against the minority Muslim sect Ahmadiyah. Following the light sentences Muslim fundamentalists received for their involvement in a deadly attack against the sect, Ahmadiyah followers fear religious persecution against minorities will only get worse.

Prayer services at the Al-Hidayah Ahmadiyah mosque in Jakarta still draw hundreds of followers, but there is now a police detail stationed out front to protect against a possible attack from Islamic fundamentalist groups.

While Ahmadiyah followers consider themselves Muslims, they are not accepted by mainstream Islam because they do not believe the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet. The 200,000 members in Indonesia are permitted to practice their faith, but since 2008 have been banned from converting any new members.

A deadly attack in February by Islamic fundamentalists in the West Java town of Cikesik that killed three Ahmadiyah members was secretly videotaped by an Ahmadiyah follower. The video showed a mob of about 1,000 people, some armed with clubs and machetes, first throwing rocks, then pursuing and beating Ahmadiyah members to death. The videotaped brutality brought worldwide condemnation and a government pledge to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.

Ahmadiyah member Ahmad Masihuddin was among those attacked in Cikesik. He says he and two friends tried to run and hide, but were caught. He was stripped and beaten. He says his two friends were killed.

He says he was hit by a very big rock and blacked out. They took his friends, he says, and he does not know whether they were cut or hit, but they were dragged in a different direction.

Indonesia has a long tradition of religious diversity and tolerance. A recent survey by the Setara Institute for Freedom and Democracy in Jakarta showed that Indonesians disapproved of violence against the Ahmadiyah sect by a margin of 80 percent.

But attacks on religious minorities have been on the rise in recent years. Human Rights Watch says in the last year there were at least 50 acts of violence committed against Ahmadiyah members in Indonesia.

The violence has not been met by a firm government response. Earlier this year a court sentenced 12 hard-line Muslims who participated in the mob attack to just six months in jail. An Ahmadiyah leader who refused to leave the scene of the mob and who struck a mob leader also received a six month sentence.

Masihuddin says he is angry and disappointed by the verdicts.

He says even people who do not know about the law will say it is unfair, that it is really uncivilized, and that is not Islam.

Another victim of the attack, Rizki, blames a small minority of extremists for the violence, but holds the government responsible for failing to protect religious minorities.

He says his nation supports human rights and the freedom and right to choose religion, but where is it for the Ahmadiyah? He says it does not apply.

State Islamic University history professor Azyumardi Azra says some police and government officials have been reluctant to enforce laws protecting minorities because they are either sympathetic to the Muslim fundamentalist groups or rely on them for political support. “All of these cases have to do with leadership, with very, I think, very low level of law enforcement, not with the law itself actually,” he said.

He says Muslim religious leaders and government officials need to speak out to condemn religious violence and take action against violent extremist groups to prevent other attacks that could undermine Indonesia's stability and democracy.