Sat, 21 Sep 2002

Denying basic human rights

I question the logic of the statements made by Brig. Gen. Iman Haryatna, the police chief of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), regarding the reasons behind the ransacking and burning of the Ahmadiyah secretariat building and the Ahmadiyah mosque at Selong (East Lombok calm after arson attacks, The Jakarta Post, Sept. 13). Apparently, he feels that the 1983 ban on the Ahmadiyah community should be enforced more strongly, which would prevent such "unexpected events" from occurring.

In point of fact, it seems that the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) and local factions siding with the MUI, which had originally called for the ban, are fomenting intolerance in the local community. There are at least eight Ahmadiyah mosques in Jakarta alone, as well as over 240 mosques and missions throughout the country. In each of these places, tolerance for other religious communities is fostered, and interfaith harmony is promoted. Can the MUI say that it, too, fosters interfaith harmony, when its acts of intolerance are a matter of public record?

The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in its Annual Report for International Religious Freedom (2001), lists many of MUI's demonstrations of intolerance. These include the issuing of edicts banning the Hare Krishna and Bah'ai communities, the rejection of the Salamulla Congregation (Jamaah Salamulla), which ultimately contributed to the vandalization of its retreat in West Java in May of 2001, and its denigration of the Jehovah's Witnesses community.

On a larger scale, such intolerance is a reflection of the Indonesian government as a whole, which provides MUI with recognition and financing. Government policies, such as requiring citizens to indicate religious preference on their national ID cards, have been backward and intolerant from the start. Many hard-working citizens, who are not members of the six "official" religions approved by the government, find themselves with great difficulties in registering their marriages and births and in receiving employment as a result of this humiliating practice.

Even from thousands of miles away here in America, it is easy to take notice of such practices, which deny citizens their fundamental rights to religious freedom. This letter is an example of how the world continues to watch Indonesia, hoping for such violations to end immediately.


Los Angeles, California