Religious community in Indonesia facing violent persecution, HRW warns

The Gafatar religious community is facing systematic persecution in Indonesia in the name of "religious harmony", Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

Indonesian Navy personnel assist a member of the Gafatar religious group disembark a ship, having been transported - along with over 700 others - from West Kalimantan.Reuters

Since January 2016, Indonesian officials and security forces have been complicit in the violent eviction of over 7,000 members of the Gafatar religious community from their homes on Kalimantan Island.S S

"Ethnic groups and state officials have acted hand-in-hand in the name of 'religious harmony' to deny members of the Gafatar religious community their basic rights to security and religious freedom," said Phelime Kine, deputy Asia director of HRW.

"Government agencies and security forces did little to protect Gafatar members from expulsion, but instead assisted in their forced eviction, locked them up, and scattered them around the country."

Officials reportedly stood by while mobs from Malay and Dayak communities looted and destroyed the property of Gafatars, while other government officials moved members to unofficial detention centres.

The community has long been treated with suspicion and accused of "deviant teachings" because of their belief system, which combines Islam with Christian and Jewish beliefs.

This suspicion has been exacerbated by media coverage of allegations that members have abducted people and forced their recruitment. The media also made unsupported claims that Gafatar was a separatist movement seeking to create an independent theocracy in Kalimantan.

On January 14, Gafatar offices were closed down on orders of the home affairs minister, and all Gafatar activities and propagation of the group's beliefs were banned on March 24. Punishments for violations include a five-year prison sentence.

"If we let it go on, Gafatar could potentially cause public unrest and trigger various other sensitive issues. So I hope all parties understand that this [is] for the sake of maintaining religious harmony," the minister said.

Between mid-January and mid-February, violent mobs forcibly evicted 2,422 families – 7,916 people – from west and east Kalimantan provinces, Gafatar spokeswoman Farah Meifira told HRW.

Government officials have threatened members of the Gafatar community living in unofficial detention centres with "religious re-education," "deradicalisation counselling" and prosecutions for blasphemy.

"The government's abuse of Gafatar members' rights is the latest example of official complicity with forces of intolerance in Indonesia," Kine said.

"The Gafatar, like the Shia, Ahmadiyah, and some Christian congregations, have learned the hard way that officials and security forces obligated to protect religious minorities are all-too-ready to deny them their freedoms."