Category Archives: Conflict and security

Brazilian atheists have a message for Indonesia

"If god exists, everything is permitted"

This powerful advertisement commissioned by a Brazilian atheist group sums up, in one slogan, what is happening with religious bigotry, persecution and violence against the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia at the moment.

Last month a court gave sentences of 3-6 months’ jail to 12 Sunni Muslim thugs who led a lynch mob of around 1,500 armed extremists against about 20 members of the Ahmadiyah sect, who are Muslims in every sense of the word except they don’t believe Mohammed was the final prophet. In the eyes of the Indonesian courts, this means you can kill them in front of police and receive less punishment than you would for stealing someone’s buffalo or making a naughty video of yourself with your girlfriend.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa put his Cambridge masters degree in philosophy to good use on Friday, cynically inverting logic and ethics in justification of the sentences. He said the judiciary’s independence could not be questioned (ignoring that laws such as prohibitions against murder are created by parliament to be enforced) and noted that Indonesia was not the only country to experience “heinous” acts as a result of religious intolerance (ignoring the fact that heinous acts which go unpunished are likely to be repeated).

Advertisements

Getting away with religious murder in Indonesia

I must applaud A. Lin Neumann for his powerful opinion piece in today’s Jakarta Globe newspaper. Indonesia is letting murderers, people who kill in the name of the dominant form of Islam, to get away with slaps on the wrist.

In an appalling series of decisions on Thursday, a court in Serang, western Java, gave sentences of three to six months’ jail to 12 men who led a mob of around 1,500 Muslim fanatics against a small group of Ahmadiyah sect members in February this year. Three of the followers of the minority Muslim faith were viciously slaughtered in front of police, who did nothing to intervene. Then the mob set upon the corpses and the property, and hunted the survivors through the surrounding fields.  Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch summed it up with one word: “savagery”.

The whole thing was captured on video for all to see. Be warned, this is disturbing footage.

Only 12 people were charged over this incident. None was charged with murder. None received a sentence stiffer than six months in jail. All will walk free in weeks. That’s Indonesian justice and tolerance. It is tolerance of murder and mob rule.

You can read more on the pathetic judicial process here at Human Rights Watch.

Here are some extracts from Neumann’s piece:

I still cannot get one sound from the Feb. 6 Cikeusik mob attack on a handful of Ahmadiyah followers out of my head. At some point the shouting and mayhem, which millions have seen on YouTube, seems to subside as a lifeless body in the mud is beaten with wooden staves. There follows a series of sickening wet slaps against the corpse as a crowd shouts in approval.

But that man and two other victims were not murdered, according to prosecutors who chose the lightest possible charges to throw up against the clearly identifiable suspects in the Banten province attack. On Thursday, a court made it official, handing out sentences of three to six months to 12 men accused of leading and carrying out the assault.

Dani bin Misra, a 17-year-old, smashed a victim’s skull with a stone; he was charged with manslaughter and got three months. The leader of the mob of about 1,000 people who attacked 20 Ahmadis, Idris bin Mahdani, was convicted of illegal possession of a machete and got five months and 15 days in jail.

In other words, murder – organized, premeditated and captured on video – is not much more of a crime than stealing a bunch of bananas. In Indonesia, it appears, you can get away with murder, as long as the killing is done in the name of religion…

The sad truth is that Indonesia, despite its progress on so many fronts, still allows preachers of hate to foment criminal acts against others. In this upside-down world, Ahmadiyah followers can be killed for their belief that their prophet came after Mohammed. They are fair game.

Thursday’s court verdict seems likely to spur still more mob terror since the crime carries virtually no punishment and the government does so little to speak out against such heinous acts.

This is a frightening black mark on a nation that prides itself on being a bastion of tolerance guided by Pancasila, whose first pillar is religious freedom and whose second is Kemanusiaan yang Adil dan Beradab, which states that all people should be treated with dignity as creatures of God.

This is not the first time such an outrage has gone virtually unpunished. Just two days after the Cikeusik killings, a mob in Temanggung, Central Java, ran riot in reaction to a blasphemy verdict. They were angry because a Christian accused of defaming Islam got only a five-year sentence – mind you, he killed no one.

That mob burned churches and buildings and injured bystanders. Most of the accused were given five-month sentences by a Semarang court last month. The ring leader, a cleric, got a year’s sentence, which was reduced by several months for time served.

What is so deeply alarming about the Cikeusik verdicts and other outrages, however, is the absence of reasoned and consistent leadership from the top reaches of government to set a tone of tolerance in the face of criminal acts committed in the name of religion…

The impression that Indonesia is a major success story is increasingly widespread. But don’t take it for granted. Mob rule, disrespect for the law and courts that treat killers with kid gloves are also still part of Indonesia’s story.

 

Sadly, there are “still places” like Indonesia

I had to laugh when I read the following line in this wonderful piece by Andrew Copson in The Guardian: “There are still places where it is illegal to declare yourself as non-religious on your identity papers or official records”.

Yes unfortunately there are still such places, and at least one of them is  Indonesia, that mainly Muslim country which US President Barack Obama recently lauded as a model of tolerance and pluralism. In Indonesia it is impossible to have a legal identity if you are an atheist – you must state your adherence to one of six “religions”. I put that word in commas because the rules bizarrely rank Catholicism and Protestantism as separate religions. The others are Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism (a religion?) and Hinduism. Any alternative beliefs, including the various other branches of Christianity, are invalid and followers of those beliefs are ineligible for ID documents.

I laughed because Indonesia is so desperate to be seen as a powerful, moderate and modern country, yet in fact on so many levels it ranks as one of those unmentionable places that still has such backward laws on its books.

Of course, Indonesia isn’t the only place in the world where religion reigns mightily over reason. Witness the madness being committed in the name of religion in Afghanistan now, with the killings of innocent people in response to a US pastor’s provocative and stupid burning of a copy of the Koran in far-away Florida. In this foul, depressing atmosphere it’s so nice to read a piece of free-thinking such as Copson’s article.

Copson points out that 2011 is the 200th anniversary of Oxford university’s expulsion of the poet Shelley for his publication of a tract arguing the “Necessity of Atheism”.

Today in Britain, non-religious people are not thrown out of universities because they don’t believe in God, but in other parts of the world many suffer this fate – and worse. There are still places where it is illegal to declare yourself as non-religious on your identity papers or official records.

One of the most upsetting stories I was ever told was by a young humanist from Saudi Arabia who grew up so frightened of what would happen if he spoke out loud about his beliefs to another person that the only outlet for his thoughts was to go on long walks away from all people, and speak his mind only to the air. In fact, he never spoke to another human being about his most fundamental beliefs until coming to Britain in his late 20s, and experiencing then for the first time what those of us who live in freedom take for granted: the joyful dynamic of testing and developing our own ideas in conversation and dialogue with others.

In this country the blasphemy laws have been abolished, but elsewhere our fellow men and women face death for speaking and thinking freely.

Indonesia has not yet made blasphemy a capital crime, but some fear it is heading down that road. And anyway Indonesians “face death for speaking and thinking freely”, either at the hands of fanatics for their religious views or at the hands of the security forces for their political ones.

Crass ad of the day: pizza for refugees!

We probably shouldn’t blame Pizza Hut for this, but check out the unfortunate placement of their advertisement in this Gulf newspaper below.

The story is about refugees pouring out of Libya and begging for food at the Egyptian border. The excellent news photo shows refugees reaching for scraps of bread through the razor wire. It’s an effective front page … except for the scowl-inducing contribution from the advertising department.  A special offer of four extra thick pan pizzas placed in such a way that the refugee almost looks like he’s reaching for a slice. Oh dear. Guess it’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing in this particular newsroom.

US credibility takes a nosedive in Indonesia

US ambassador to Indonesia, Scot Marciel (pictured left shaking hands with the Indonesian president), needs to get out a bit more and listen to ordinary Indonesians. If he did he would know that his performance at a press conference on Friday was an insult to those who aspire to live in a democracy that respects the rule of law.

As reported in the Australian media, the ambassador apparently walked out of the press conference which was called to respond to leaked US diplomatic cables making explosive allegations of abuse of power against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other political leaders.

The conference was not called, it seems, to answer journalists’ legitimate questions, but merely to give a show of openness to what amounts to naked propaganda. That propaganda seems intended to give the impression, ridiculous as it is to anyone who follows Indonesian affairs, that there are no serious issues about corruption or abuse of power in the world’s “third biggest democracy”.

Here’s how the The Age’s Tom Allard described proceedings:

At an extraordinary and, at times, awkward press conference after the meeting, Mr Marciel declined to confirm or deny the veracity of the cables or comment on the specific allegations they contained.

But he said, generally speaking, such cables contained “candid and often raw information” that was “often incomplete and unsubstantiated”.

“We express our deepest regrets to President Yudhoyono and to the Indonesian people,” he said, adding that the publication of the cables was “extremely irresponsible”.

Mr Marciel abruptly left the press conference shortly afterwards, leaving Mr Natalegawa to answer questions alone.

Natalegawa reportedly dismissed the apparently naive suggestion that the allegations might be investigated, saying categorically they would not.

Showing how much he respected the Indonesian people, Marciel dutifully repeated the “attack-the-messenger” approach of the State Department that it is “irresponsible” to report allegations of serious abuses of power about a US ally.

The ambassador commented only in order to discredit his own embassy’s cables and to attack those who chose to inform the Indonesian people about the allegations contained therein. It reminds me of his predecessor, Cameron Hume, who reportedly told journalists in his final days in Jakarta that human rights issues in Papua were of absolutely no concern to the United States as it mulled re-opening military ties with the Kopassus special forces blamed for committing atrocities in the region.

President Barack Obama pretends he has some affinity with ordinary Indonesians. After all, he knows the words “satay” and “nasi goreng”. He also claims to support their aspirations for genuine democracy and justice. But apparently Obama doesn’t think they deserve to know what he knows about alleged abuse of power by their elected leaders and their lackeys.

What was left of US credibility took another blow today with the publication in the The Age of more US cables, provided by Wikileaks, showing the US embassy in Jakarta had defended an alleged Indonesian war criminal and sought to hide what the US knew about his involvement in the 1991 Dili massacre and other atrocities in East Timor.

According to the report, the Jakarta embassy argued that army general Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, recently appointed by Yudhoyono as deputy defence minister, should be allowed to enter the United States (to attend a G20 meeting, no less) despite his alleged involvement in war crimes and state-sponsored terrorism by Indonesian forces in East Timor.

It took objections from the US embassy in Dili and a frank assessment of the implausibility of the general’s denials to convince Washington to overrule Jakarta and deny him a visa.

But even then, Washington kept its decision hush-hush, so as not to upset its partners in the Indonesian political elite, the same people who featured in other secret diplomatic cables about alleged abuse of power and corruption.

It’s not just about the rule of law, justice, alleged corruption and abuse of power. It’s about the impunity of the Indonesian military for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in places like East Timor, Papua, the Molukus and Jakarta during anti-communist purges, anti-Chinese massacres, anti-separatist wars and anti-democracy crackdowns under the Suharto dictatorship. Hundreds of thousands of people died in these murderous rampages but the generals responsible are rarely, if ever, held to account.

Instead they rise through the ranks, gain political influence and the wealth that goes with power, and are coddled by the United States. One of the Jakarta embassy cables described  Sjamsoeddin as crucial to military ties that are the “cornerstone of our efforts to ensure regional stability”.

So the US relationship with Indonesia, nay, the region as a whole, hinges on military ties, not justice or the rule of law.

How did that strategy go in Egypt?

The brave boys of Brimob

These are the brave boys of Brimob, Indonesia’s notorious “Mobile Brigade”. They’re the macho guys you can count on to run away if you are being lynched by a mob of crazed Islamic extremists.

Indonesia’s Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence believes the mob of some 1,500 extremists who attacked the Ahmadiyah in February were an organised group. Brimob was there, they should know. Yet so far police have refused to name the group involved. What’s going on?

Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic extremism and terrorism in Indonesia, believes the answer is quite simple. She told reporters at a recent seminar that the most likely reason for the government’s failure to take on violent extremist groups is that senior members of the cabinet approve of their goals, if not their methods. She cited the religious affairs minister’s repeated calls for the banning of Ahmadiyah, according to a friend who attended the seminar.

If that’s true, Indonesia may be heading down the same road Pakistan went down when it banned Ahmadiyah and made blasphemy a capital crime.  Good luck with that.

A random stabbing or attack on press in Papua?

Amnesty International has demanded Indonesia conduct a quick and impartial investigation into the attempted stabbing murder of an Indonesian journalist who had exposed cases of rape by police in Papua province.

Papua is a place that the great democracy of Indonesia has sealed off from the outside world in order, some say, to hide the genocide it is committing against the indigenous Melanesian majority. So as much as independent reporters and rights workers would like to know the facts of the case, it is impossible to find out because they are not allowed to go there and check for themselves.

So we have to rely on the Indonesian government, and the police themselves, to tell us what happened. You can see where this is likely to end up. A day after the crime the national police are already saying the attack was not linked to the reporter’s work. We’ll just have to take their word for it.

Banjir Ambarita is a well respected freelance reporter and photographer. He is a vital source of information from Papua, not only for the Indonesian media in Jakarta but for the foreign media based there as well.

Unknown attackers ambushed him as he rode home on his motorcycle in Jayapura on Thursday morning. They stabbed him in the chest and the stomach, then fled. Banjir managed to get to a police station before he collapsed. He was rushed to hospital and is now in intensive care after surgery.

Those people who find it intellectually fashionable to criticise the media for shallow or trite reporting, think about Banjir and the work he does. There are many journalists like him, not only in Papua but around the world, including the Philippines, Egypt and Iraq. You rarely hear about them until they wind up dead on the side of a road or in intensive care with gunshot or stab wounds. They don’t take these risks for the money or the glory. None of them are rich. They do it because they believe people need to know what their governments and business leaders are up to.

Banjir recently wrote about two horrible cases of rape and sex abuse by the police in Papua. One involved a 15-year-old girl who was brutally gang-raped over a period of several days in February by four police officers and three civilians. Local media have reported the girl was detained in a house and beaten if she resisted.

The other case involved a married woman who had been detained for illegal gambling. Three police officers forced her to perform oral sex on multiple occasions while she was in custody from November to January. She reportedly tried to kill herself.

The first case is under investigation, and the police have promised to charge four officers allegedly involved. The provincial police chief has resigned to take moral responsibility for the second case, which is also under investigation. It is illuminating that the officers allegedly involved have already been forced to stand in the sun by way of punishment. It sounds like a POW camp, and some people would say that’s exactly what Papua is.

The Indonesian police are constantly mired in grubby scandals and allegations of torture, particularly in Papua. Yet officers rarely do the right and honourable thing and resign to take responsibility for the misconduct of their men.  It’s probably unwise to praise an Indonesian police officer at any time, given the skeletons that might lurk in his cupboard, but Jayapura police chief Imam Setiawan set a good example by resigning.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, visited Indonesia in 2007  and wrote a pretty damning report about what he found. In a press release at the time, he said:

No country in the world is immune to the crimes of torture and ill-treatment: in the opinion of the Special Rapporteur, the key element in effectively combating this problem is for each and every State to recognize this reality and confront the problem head on.

Passing a law against torture and protecting journalists who expose police abuse would be a good start. According to Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists,  there were 46 cases of violence against journalists last year compared to 37 in 2009. Combined with abuse of defamation laws by businessmen and politicians, that’s a worrying trend for press freedom – and reform in general – in the world’s “third biggest democracy”.