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HRW: Religious Group Faces Systemic Persecution In Indonesia

| by Jimmy King
Indonesian soldiers stand guard, 2009Indonesian soldiers stand guard, 2009

The Gafatar religious group is facing increasing repression in Indonesia, according to a recent report.  The March 29 report indicates that the group was persecuted for allegedly threatening “religious harmony”.

Human Rights Watch observed the forced eviction of more than 7,000 members of the Gafatar group since January, while Indonesian security forces stood by, reports Christian Today. 

“Ethnic groups and state officials have acted hand-in-hand in the name of “religious harmony” to deny members of the Gafatar religious community their basic rights to security and religious freedom,” said Phelime Kine, Asia deputy director of HRW.

Mobs of Malay and Dayak ethnic groups reportedly "looted and destroyed properties owned by the group’s members," reports HRW.  Then, Indonesian officials detained Gafatar followers in a bid to permanently relocate the group.

“Government agencies and security forces did little to protect Gafatar members from expulsion, but instead assisted in their forced eviction, locked them up, and scattered them around the country,” said Kine.

Rather than prosecute and arrest those attacking the Gafatar group, authorities reportedly threatened the Gafatar themselves with criminal allegations.

The Gafatar religious group has been viewed negatively by the Indonesian government for some time.  The Gafatar religion was reportedly founded to secede from Indonesia and create a theocracy. 

On March 24, Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo ushered in a ban on practicing the Gafatar religion, punishable with a prison sentence.

“If we let it go on, Gafatar could potentially cause public unrest and trigger various other sensitive issues. So I hope all parties understand that this is for the sake of maintaining religious harmony,” said Attorney General Prasetyo.

HRW says that the crackdown on Gafatar is part of a larger trend of religious repression in Indonesia.

“The government’s abuse of Gafatar members’ rights is the latest example of official complicity with forces of intolerance in Indonesia,” said Kine.  “The Gafatar, like the Shia, Ahmadiya, and some Christian congregations, have learned the hard way that officials and security forces obligated to protect religious minorities are all-too-ready to deny them their freedoms.”

Sources: Christian Today, Human Rights Watch / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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