Religious minorities unite for freedom

Iron: Pondok Gede sub-precinct head Comr. Dedy Tabrani speaks to an Ahmadi behind the locked gate of the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi on April 5. (Antara/Widodo S. Jusuf)
Iron: Pondok Gede sub-precinct head Comr. Dedy Tabrani speaks to an Ahmadi behind the locked gate of the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi on April 5. (Antara/Widodo S. Jusuf)

Next to a sealed Ahmadi mosque in Bekasi is a plot of land with leafy trees and damp earth. To get in one has to squeeze through a gap between a tall iron gate and the wall of a residence on the other side.

From this bit of land, Ahmadiyah members send food over the gate to the 19 Ahmadis staying inside the mosque, which was sealed in early April by Bekasi public order officers.

When the officers put up the corrugated iron fence to seal the Al Misbah Mosque, about 40 people were inside, including women and children. The women and children have since been taken out.

The remaining 19 stayed behind, giving away their freedom for an indefinite time as a symbol, an
act of protest, toward the Bekasi municipality and the central government for meddling with their freedom to worship.

The lot became a gathering place on Saturday night for Sobat KBB, a solidarity group of victims of religious intolerance and violence, a collective of minority groups — Christians, Shia Muslims, Ahmadis and those of other beliefs — that have experienced discrimination and persecution. Sobat translates as friend in English.

The national coordinator of Sobat KBB is Palti Panjaitan, the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church pastor whose church in Bekasi was also sealed by the Bekasi city administration.

Palti said about 10 people came to the gathering. Liberal Islam activist Mohammad Guntur Romli, who in a pluralism rally that turned violent in 2008 had his nose and cheekbone fractured by blows from members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), and Nong Darol Mahmada were among the attendees.

Over grilled fish, the group shared their thoughts about the state of religious minorities in Indonesia.

Rahmat Rahmadijaya, an Ahmadiyah cleric who remains inside the shuttered mosque, joined the discussion through a small opening in the mosque’s black iron door.

Ahmadiyah spokesperson Firdaus Mubarik said they wanted to bring Palti into their campaign because they saw the creative ways the Filadelfia church had promoted their cause, such as holding mass in front of the presidential palace.

Firdaus said the Ahmadis collaborated with Filadelfia for the Saturday night gathering — aimed at becoming a regular meeting — to continue to voice their cause.

“We don’t want the people remaining in the mosque to be forgotten,” he said.

Palti, meanwhile, said they might make the gathering more regular, not only in the lot next to Al Misbah but in other places where religious minorities are persecuted.

The group was established in February after a workshop by the Setara Institute, a human rights organization that monitors religious freedom across the country, and is also open to agnostics and atheists, the priest said.

“Sobat KBB is open to any victims [of persecution] including atheists. We fight for all victims who have been victimized or discriminated against in the name of religion, either those who adhere to religion or those who do not. We will fight hand in hand, to support each other,” Palti said.

Local and international organizations have criticized Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration for the increasing religious intolerance and violence in the country, even as he recently received the World Statesman Award from the US-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation. The award has been deemed a publicity stunt by rights groups who say the president does not deserve the award because of his track record in dealing with religious minorities.

Setara has documented 264 cases of violent attacks against religious minorities, up from 244 cases in 211 and 216 cases in 2010. Meanwhile, non-believers are criminalized, as in the case of atheist Alexander Aa, who broadcast his thoughts about the non-existence of God and was put behind bars in 2012.

“We want to enlighten people that religion should not be used to judge other religions or beliefs,” Palti said of Sobat KBB.
Struggling: Nineteen Ahmadis are staying inside the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi, which was sealed by Bekasi public order officers in April. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)Struggling: Nineteen Ahmadis are staying inside the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi, which was sealed by Bekasi public order officers in April. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)
In the case of Ahmadiyah, a 2008 joint ministerial decree banned the sect from proselytizing and the decree became the base for the regional government to ban Ahmadiyah outright. The West Java administration banned Ahmadiyah activities in 2011, the same year the Bekasi mayoralty announced its ban.

From across the corrugated iron fence, Rahmat, 33, who has been living on the grounds of the mosque for a decade, said Islamic hardliners from the FPI started to intimidate and harass Ahmadis at Friday prayers after Bekasi mayor Rahmat Effendi announced the ban.

“They threatened us, roaring their motorcycle engines, disturbing our prayers,” he said.

Except for Rahmat and a resident living next to the mosque, the neighbors of the mosque are not Ahmadis.

Ahmadis from other parts of Bekasi come and pray there on Fridays. But a resident living nearby said people were nonplussed with them. “For us here, to each their own”.

Rahmat said the Bekasi administration’s sealing of the mosque was the latter’s idea to protect the Ahmadis from religious hardliners. “But they did it without consulting us first, there was no dialogue,” he said.

The mosque is now guarded by three police officers, who take shelter from boredom in the house in front of the mosque where they can watch television when nothing is happening. The police presence ensures no-one enters the mosque, either Ahmadis or hardliners. A number of times after the mosque was sealed hardliners have arrived, but were cordoned off by the police.

“We feel shackled, it’s tough being here,” Rahmat said. The young cleric is living separately from his wife and two children. The youngest was born in February.

His days are used to pray, he said. They also entertain themselves with badminton and ping pong.

Rahmat said they have sent letters of protest to the president and the mayor. The Ahmadis are also taking their case against the Bekasi administration to the administrative court.

Even though the government is not keeping the Ahmadis inside the mosque, Rahmat said he would stay locked inside until the government reopened it.

“Forever, we will stay here forever,” he said.

But, he doesn’t wish for that. Rahmat is instead hoping for divine intervention to help the embattled Ahmadis win their case.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Bekasi | Feature | Fri, May 24 2013, 2:48 PM

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