Indonesia: Muslim minority group faces 'harassment and intimidation'

An Ahmadiyah mosque was closed in Subang, West Java, last month amid a rising tide of harassment against the group.Reuters

A minority Muslim group has been banned from holding religious activities and had its mosque closed in Indonesia in the latest crackdown by district officials.

The Ahmadiyah religious community in Subang, a town in West Java province, is being harassed and intimidated by local authorities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

A letter was issued by four Muslim clerics and a number of police, military and religious officials on January 29, banning all Ahmadiyah activities in central Subang. The community's mosque was later closed, leading HRW to call on the Indonesian government to intervene.

Deputy Asia director at HRW, Phelim Kine, said Subang officials "seem oblivious to religious freedom".

"Indonesian officials should be at the forefront of defending rights protected under the constitution and international law, not issuing unlawful prohibitions that undermine them," he added.

The Ahmadiyah self-identify as Muslim and follow the teaching of the Qur'an but regard an Indian preacher, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a "messiah" who came after the Prophet Muhammad. This belief is considered heretical by Indonesia's mainstream Muslim population which is the largest in the world.

According to HRW, the Ahmadiyah community in Subang, comprised of about 400 people, has been the target of harassment and intimidation since October last year.

In January, a neighbourhood leader accused them of "blasphemy against Islam" and suggested that mainstream Sunni Muslims may retaliate with violence.

"We reject a blasphemous activity taking place in our neighborhood," a letter send to officials said. "We don't want our members to lose patience and to use violence if that activity is not banned."

Another Ahmadiyah community in Bangka island off South Sumatra was last month ordered to convert to Sunni Islam or leave.

A senior official in the local government told Reuters that "the Ahmadiyah have a right to live in Bangka", but "in a meeting with community leaders and religious figures, all of us have agreed that it is forbidden for them to conduct activities like spreading their faith."

A letter sent by the island's most senior bureaucrat said "Ahmadiyah followers in Srimenanti village must immediately repent in accordance with Islamic Sharia that there is no prophet after the prophet Muhammad."

Fearing that clashes would break out, the police subsequently evacuated Ahmadiya women and children from the island.

The threat marks an ongoing persecution against minority religious groups from Indonesia's hardline Muslims despite the constitution guaranteeing religious freedom.