Police have taken 21 suspects into custody after a crowd of hardline Muslims vandalized a mosque belonging to the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect last week in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, a local police chief said.
More than 100 people claiming to represent Islamic groups vandalized the mosque in Balai Harapan village of Sintang regency on Friday, police said. A video purportedly of the attack and widely circulated online showed men armed with sticks smashing the mosque’s windows as police and soldiers looked on, and a nearby building in flames.
Confirming the arrests, provincial police spokesman Donny Charles Go told BenarNews that “all the suspects have been detained.” More arrests were expected, he added.
Donny said that three people suspected of instigating the attack were among those picked up thus far.
“We will not allow anarchic actions. Police will enforce the law by arresting the perpetrators of vandalism as soon as possible in order to protect the security of all residents,” he said.
Citing witness accounts, Yendra Budiana, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Community based in Jakarta, said security personnel did not appear to intervene when the mob started to vandalize the mosque.
“After Friday prayers, more than 100 people moved toward the mosque. They were intercepted, but in the end, they were not stopped,” Yendra told BenarNews.
He said some in the crowd threatened to return in 30 days if authorities failed to demolish the mosque.
Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas condemned the attack.
“The action of people who take the law into their own hands by destroying a house of worship and property belonging to others cannot be justified and is a clear violation of the law,” Yaqut said in a statement on Friday.
“Differences in faiths should not become the reason for the majority group to persecute and to pass judgment on other groups. This is the government’s first basic view that it will uphold,” Yaqut told BenarNews in an interview in June.
Activists and members of the minority group say that decrees still in force branding Ahmadi beliefs as deviant and banning proselytizing have set the stage for persecution.
Hate speech and provocations
Muslims in Sintang Regency have expressed opposition to Ahmadis in the area for years, resident Slamet Bowo Santoso told BenarNews, adding that he had heard about a plan to attack the mosque.
“They want the Ahmadiyya mosque to be demolished. I didn’t participate because I don’t agree with an anarchist method that is not likely to change their beliefs,” Slamet said on Friday.
In late April, authorities in Sintang signed an agreement with local Muslim groups to ban Ahmadi activities, according to Beka Ulung Hapsara, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).
“After the letter was signed, there were provocations, not only on the ground, but also on social media,” he told BenarNews. “There was a lot of hate speech and provocations to commit violence.”
On Aug. 14, authorities in Sintang sealed off the mosque following pressure from a group calling itself the Sintang Muslim Alliance, rights group Amnesty International said.
In a letter to authorities on Aug. 12, alliance members threatened to take matters into their own hands if their demand was not met, prompting the local Ahmadiyya community to ask police for protection, according to AI.
Estimated to number around 400,000 in Indonesia, the Ahmadiyya have been targeted by hardline Islamic groups since at least 2005 when the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who follows its teachings is no longer a Muslim.
Ahmadis believe that the founder of their group, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the promised Messiah and a prophet. Those beliefs have been rejected by many Muslims who believe Muhammad was the last of the prophets.
In 2008, the government issued a joint decree signed by the religious affairs minister, the attorney general and the home affairs minister, ordering Ahmadiyya congregations to stop proselytizing beliefs “not in accordance with the general interpretation of Islam, such as acknowledging the existence of a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad.”
Choirul Anam, another Komnas HAM commissioner, called for revocation of the decree banning Ahmadis from proselytizing.
“The fact is that there has been a lot of violence. There have been discriminatory actions,” Choirul said.
Yendra, the Ahmadiyya spokesman, said the decree had been used as the basis for local governments to crack down on the group and had triggered a rise in intolerant acts.
He said 114 Ahmadiyya followers had been displaced from their homes on Lombok island for more than a decade after being expelled by other villagers for practicing their faith.
In June, in an interview with BenarNews, Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut defended the decree, saying it was “still relevant.”
“The main issue is actually clear, the belief in the existence of a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad,” he said. “However, it is necessary to hold dialogue between the parties so that issues can be resolved.”
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