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Page last updated at 21:29 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 22:29 UK

Indonesia sect row raises rights fears

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

Child in camp for internally displaced persons
Some persecuted Ahmadiyah are refugees in their own country

This is a story of the many against the few. Of a protest against Muslims, in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

This is the story of Indonesia's Ahmadiyah, and their fight for survival in the world's largest Muslim democracy.

Diyan waits patiently in the midday sun outside Indonesia's presidential palace.

The crowd of protestors around her is squeezing its way, limb by limb, through the narrow entrance to the national park.

Inside the gates food stalls are serving cold drinks and fried soy beans to the muffled booming of a megaphone - its message insistent and repetitive: throw the Ahmadiyah out.

Diyan has come to add her voice to the thousands gathered here, calling on the government to ban the unorthodox Muslim sect because its beliefs differ from mainstream Islam.

'Disband them'

In April, after three months' deliberation, a state panel recommended the government do exactly that. The question now is whether it will.

Ahmadiyah follower
This is a bad precedent for Indonesia's future, not only for Ahmadiyah members, but for other people also
Udin
Ahmadiyah follower

Diyan told me: "If we just let the Ahmadiyah be, they'll have a negative impact on other people. They need to be disbanded."

But there are only a few hundred thousand Ahmadiyah in Indonesia, among 200m Muslims.

So why are they seen as such a threat?

It all goes back to one very simple but highly controversial question.

Is Muhammad the final prophet for each and every Muslim?

Thousands of miles away, on the sleepy island of Lombok, Ahmadiyah member Udin tries to provide an answer.

"The prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam itself, said 14 centuries ago that in the last age, the promised messiah will come for the second time. And he is a prophet."

Democracy's future

This prophet, Udin believes, was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the man who founded the Ahmadiyah a century ago.

Even raising the question of whether or not there was a Muslim prophet after Muhammad is a very sensitive one.

And it has brought the Ahmadiyah decades of discrimination.

Here in Lombok, Udin lives with 130 other Ahmadiyah, in a camp for internally displaced persons.

Anti-Ahmadiyah protest
Protesters want the government to ban the sect

They were forced to move from their homes after being attacked by their neighbours.

Since then, they have lived here inside this camp - Muslim refugees in a Muslim land.

"Some of these people have experienced attacks four or more times," Udin told me as he showed me round the camp.

"Their houses were burned; were attacked; were burnt down. And now they don't have any place to go."

But the status of the Ahmadiyah is not just a matter of religious doctrine - Indonesia is a pluralist democracy, and this is also a matter of human rights.

Unconstitutional?

Back in Jakarta, Usman Hamid, the head of Indonesia's largest independent human rights organisation, Kontras, told me this was about the future of democracy in Indonesia.

According to him, the government's decision has already been written in the constitution.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed. But he says the government is not standing up for it in the face of the country's clerics.

"There's a lack of confidence from the government to challenge this," he told me.

Anti-Ahmadiyah protest
Hardline and some mainstream Muslims see the Ahmadiyah as heretics

"Maybe because of a lack of performance in delivering justice to the people; economic justice, social justice. So this situation is giving the government a way to cover their failure."

So what does the government itself have to say?

The home affairs ministry was one of those involved in the recommendation.

Their chief of national unity, Sudarsono, says there is not only the constitution to consider.

He says the government also needs to work within the Presidential Decree of 1965, which prohibits people from practising a religion in a way that deviates from the norm.

In his eyes, it is a matter of individual rights, balanced with individual responsibilities.

Mosque torched

So which comes first? Should the government protect the norms of a religion, or the rights of individuals to practise their beliefs?

Since the panel gave its recommendation in April one Ahmadiyah mosque has already been burned and at least one other attacked.

On Sunday, hardline Muslims in Jakarta clashed with liberal Muslims, including Ahmadiyah followers, who were holding a rally calling for religious tolerance.

Anti-Ahmadiyah protest
Is Indonesia treading a dangerous path over the Ahmadiyah row?

Udin told me sadly: "This is a bad precedent for Indonesia's future, not only for Ahamdiyah members, but for other people also.

"Other minorities will experience the same thing that the Ahmadiyah have experienced so far."

Unlike some other Muslim groups that exist freely in Indonesia, the Ahmadiyah are not pushing to turn the country into an Islamic state, nor have they been accused of violence or intimidation.

But it seems as far as this issue goes, it is people's beliefs rather than their actions that the government is responding to.

And many here believe that is a dangerous path for it to go down.




SEE ALSO
Indonesia hardliner's war threat
02 Jun 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Protesters burn Indonesian mosque
28 Apr 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesians demand ban on sect
20 Apr 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Rare attack on Pakistan Ahmadis
07 Oct 05 |  South Asia
Violent Dhaka rally against sect
23 Dec 05 |  South Asia
Country profile: Indonesia
20 May 08 |  Country profiles

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