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Indonesia: light sentences for deadly attack threaten religious tolerance

August 1, 2011

A district court sentenced 12 Islamist militants to three to six months imprisonment yesterday for the attack on members of the Ahmadiyah minority group in Cikeusik last February, which resulted in three deaths. The light sentences foster impunity and deny people the right to freely express their religious beliefs, further eroding religious tolerance in Indonesia. ARTICLE 19 calls on political leaders to send a clear message condemning violence against religious minorities.

“This judgment is an insult to Indonesia’s ‘unity in diversity’ state philosophy. We are extremely disappointed and saddened to see the culprits of one of the most horrific religious attacks in Indonesia in recent years treated so lightly by the legal system. It is ridiculous that the judges in their verdicts claimed it was the Ahmadiyah who instigated the attack,” says Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.

“Freedom of expression including the right to hold different opinions on issues of religion is a fundamental right protected by international law and the Indonesian Constitution. This judgment will not send a strong deterrence to those who incite and carry out violence on the basis of differences in beliefs, it will instead encourage more acts of discrimination against religious minorities. It is urgent that President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono and his government speak out strongly against such attacks and demonstrate a commitment to protect religious tolerance and pluralism,” continued Dr Callamard.

Video footage of the attack involving 1,500 Islamist militants armed with bamboo spears and rocks against about 20 Ahmadiyah members were posted on the internet, generating worldwide criticism, including a strong condemnation from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

To the disbelief of many, even the prosecutors in the case criticised the Ahmadiyah for posting the videos online and cited it as a reason to ask for a sentence reduction for the defendants.

ARTICLE 19 has actively campaigned for the repeal of the 1965 law on defamation of religion and the 2008 joint ministerial decree forbidding Ahmadiyah from “conveying, endorsing or attempting to gain public support” for their religious beliefs.

Such legislation has legitimised discrimination against religious minorities and encouraged attacks on them, including the Cikeusik incident.

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