World

Indonesia Takes New Measures To Fight Religious Cults

| by Michael Doherty
A village in IndonesiaA village in Indonesia

In Indonesia, a new religious cult that includes elements of Islam, Christianity and Judaism has become the center of controversy, raising questions about how the nation's government can handle emerging religious sects in the region.

In 2015, the group, called Gafatar, set up a commune with over 1,000 members in the West Kalimantan province of Indonesia, U.S. News reports.

The group entered the public eye when a doctor and her 6-month-old son were reported missing in December 2015, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. They were found two weeks later living in the Gafatar commune.

Indonesia's government controls the practice of religion in the country, issuing cards to its citizens that identify them as one of six recognized religions. Citizens may opt to leave that section blank, however, according to a report on international religious freedom published by the U.S. Department of State in 2009.

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Blasphemy is also illegal in the country.

The Indonesian government suspected Gafatar of "deviant teachings," and in August 2015, the group was officially disbanded.

In January, a mob burned down houses in the settlement, leading the government to evacuate more than 1,000 members of the sect.

"The mass[es] told us to leave, so we did, with just the clothes on my body," a 56-year-old father of four named Supriyadi told Fairfax Media, according to The Herald. "Why are they so vicious to us? What exactly did we do wrong? We used to be members of Gafatar, sure, but that was disbanded months ago. Even so, Gafatar was not a religious organization."

The evacuees were to be taken to their hometowns, and the government reportedly plans to re-educate the former Gafatar members in order to help them return to mainstream life.

Some in the Indonesian public fear that the cult has links to terrorism, though no links have yet been proven.

"Although it is too early to address Gafatar's links to terrorism, the group's recent recruitment influx is worrying, particularly amid the growing involvement of local radical groups with the Islamic State movement in Syria," a security consultancy based in Jakarta said.

Others warn against labeling the group as a terror threat.

"They are exclusive, but they are not advocating violence," said Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch Indonesia. "They want to live by themselves; they want to have their own community like the Amish."

Source: US News, The Sydney Morning Herald, US Department of State via UNHCR / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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