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By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 8/16/2011
Yudhoyono says Indonesia is tolerant nation
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday defended Indonesia’s reputation for pluralism, as his government faces growing criticism over its failure to respond to a spate of religious hate crimes.
In an Independence Day speech, the ex-general accepted that the mainly Muslim country was facing “threats” to religious harmony but offered little to reassure minorities which have come under frequent attack in recent months.
“Even though there are challenges and threats to pluralism, tolerance and social harmony, we cannot move from our belief that Indonesia is a nation that is able to live in pluralism,” he said in a televised address.
“We have to defend this belief without any doubt.”
Local and international human rights groups have expressed outrage recently over sentences handed out to members of a religious lynch mob who killed three Muslim minority sect members in February.
A court jailed 12 members of the Sunni Muslim mob for three to six months each, even though they were caught on film viciously attacking Ahmadiyah sect members in front of police officers.
The same court on Monday jailed one of the Ahmadiyah survivors of the attack, a man who almost lost his hand in the violence, for six months for defending himself and his friends, prompting criticism from the United States.
“We are disappointed by today’s sentencing of Deden Sudjana who was a victim of the February 6 attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
“We again encourage Indonesia to defend its tradition of tolerance for all religions, a tradition praised by President (Barack) Obama in his November 2010 visit to Jakarta.”
A panel of judges found Sudjana guilty of ill-treatment and ignoring an order to evacuate the sect’s property in Cikeusik, western Java, as the 1,500-strong mob arrived.
Earlier, the court gave a teenager who was filmed crushing one victim’s head with a stone only three months’ jail. That individual is already free and has been welcomed back to his village as a hero.
Anti-Ahmadiyah violence erupted again this week in Makassar, Sulawesi, when hundreds of Sunni extremists raided one of the sect’s places of worship on Sunday in front of police, who did nothing to intervene, rights groups said.
One sect member suffered severe head injuries and three local human rights workers who tried to stop the attack were badly beaten, Amnesty International said.
“The Ahmadiyah are not receiving adequate protection from the security forces or the courts,” Amnesty Internationals Asia-Pacific deputy director, Donna Guest, said in a statement.
“We fear that some groups now think that they can attack religious minorities and human rights defenders without any fear of serious consequences.”
The Ahmadiyah community claims to have some 500,000 followers in Indonesia, where it has been established since the 1920s after originating in South Asia.
It is regarded as heretical by mainstream Muslims because it teaches followers to regard the sect’s Indian founder as the last prophet of Islam, instead of Mohammed.