More Justice Denied in Indonesia

Almost exactly a year ago, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the following on the occasion of Independence Day: "I want to underline the importance of maintaining and strengthening our brotherhood, harmony and tolerance as a nation… In everyday life, we still find cases that don't reflect the harmony, tolerance and mutual respect ... related to religion, ethnicity, tribe and regions. We must not ignore such a situation.”

I guess no one was listening. Monday’s court verdict finding the victim guilty of inciting the mob that nearly took off his arm with a machete and killed three fellow members of the Ahmadiyah sect last February, set a new low for justice.

The district court in Banten province found Deden Sujana at fault because he was one of a handful of Ahmadiyah members who attempted to stop a crowd of about 1,500 people as it attacked the house where they were staying. By the logic of the court, if Deden had fled the area nothing would have happened and his three friends would not have been beaten and hacked to death. By such reasoning, banks should be robbed because they have money in them and pedestrians are only killed by runaway drivers because they are walking on the street.

Deden’s crime was being there. And for that he was given a six month sentence. On July 28, the same court gave 12 men involved in the violence, including the leader of the mob, sentences of three to six months for carrying out the attacks, which millions have seen on YouTube.

“I, the victim, am sentenced in a trial held under political pressure,” Deden told the court Monday, noting that he was also convicted of violent assault, a crime he was not even charged with. “I was treated the same way as the uncivilized murderers of my three friends. Where is the justice?”

The strange thing is, the sentence was neither a surprise nor an aberration.

Just days after the Feb. 6 attack in the village of Cikeusik, National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo told a hearing in the House of Representatives that Deden, who was then head of security for Ahmadiyah in Jakarta, was responsible for the violence because he had gone to the village to occupy a house owned by the sect, fearing that it would be ransacked if left abandoned. “That’s why the mob got out of control and the fatalities occurred on the Ahmadiyah side,” the police chief said at the time.

In that same hearing, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali defended a 2008 joint ministerial decree that restricts the Ahmadiyah’s activities and bans Ahmadis from spreading their faith. The decree, which is frequently cited by those who attack the sect for being heretical to Islam, is really there to help Ahmadiyah, the minister said. “The decree was not made to discriminate against certain groups, it was aimed at maintaining religious harmony, including protecting the Ahmadiyah.”

Last year, Suryadharma called for outlawing Ahmadiyah altogether. "To ban [the Ahmadiyah] is far better than to let them be... To outlaw them would mean that we are working hard to stop deviant acts from continuing," he said.

So it is in this upside down world where victims are criminals and intolerance is cited in defense of minorities.

It should surprise no one that a day before Deden was found guilty a gang of thugs under the banner of the Islamic Defenders Front attacked an Ahmadiyah mosque in Makassar. Hardly anyone noticed since this time no one was killed and such assaults are by now routine.

Predictably, Monday’s outrage has been denounced by foreign governments and human rights groups as a sign that despite Indonesia’s booming economy it seemingly has no coherent rule of law. But will it also occasion official denunciations at home and a spirited and courageous defense of tolerance and secular freedom? Not likely.

Precious few political leaders ever speak out in defense of tolerance and the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. Eva Sundari, a PDI-P lawmaker who has made defending minorities one of the hallmarks of her work, told me last week that she finds it almost impossible to recruit allies in the House. “Christians are afraid of speaking out, because they are a minority,” she said. And progressive Muslims are afraid to speak out because they do not want to be accused of attacking Islam.

And so the stain of lawlessness and bigotry grows.

Still, one can hope. “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change,” the title character says in the classic Alice in Wonderland.

Yes, it would be so nice.

(A. Lin Neumann is one of the founders of Asia Sentinel and is a senior adviser to the Jakarta Globe, in which this originally appeared.)