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Indonesia: Shi'a villagers told they must convert if they wish to return home

The threatened forced relocation of a Shi'a community living in temporary shelter in East Java is yet more evidence of the continuing discrimination against religious minorities in Indonesia, Amnesty International said today.

An estimated 165 Shi'as, including 48 children, have been living in inadequate conditions at a sports complex in Sampang district on Madura Island since August, when they were displaced after their village was attacked by a mob.

Credible local sources have told Amnesty that the authorities have given the villagers until March to convert to Indonesia’s majority religion, Sunni Islam, if they wish to return to their homes.

Amnesty International Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Isabelle Arradon said:

"The Indonesian authorities must guarantee the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Shi’a community to their homes, according to their wishes, and help them to rebuild the homes that were damaged or destroyed.

"They must also end discrimination against religious minorities in the country and investigate reports that the local and provincial authorities are coercing Shi’a followers to renounce their faith before they are allowed to return to their homes.

"Those involved in the attack on the Shi’a community in August must also be brought to justice in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness, without the imposition of the death penalty."

Conditions in the displaced Shi'a community's temporary shelter have deteriorated as a result of the treatment of the community by the local authorities and police.

In late December, the local authorities halted food supplies and medical services. Then, on 1 January, the East Java provincial police withdrew the officers who had been protecting the community. Children in the community are suffering from ill health.

Isabelle Arradon said:

"The Indonesian authorities must ensure that the community is granted immediate access to essential services such as food and health services. In particular, more needs to be done to ensure that children who are currently unwell get access to adequate medical care.”


Background information

The Karang Gayam villagers, from the Sampang district, were displaced in August when an anti-Shi’a mob of around 500 people attacked the community with sharp weapons and stones. They set fire to 35 houses belonging to the Shi’a community. One person was killed and dozens injured. Only five people have so far been charged in connection with the attack.

In May, during its Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council, the Indonesian government reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the protection of freedom of religion and promised to address cases of religious intolerance.

However, religious minority groups in Indonesia, including Shi’a, Ahmadiyya and Christian communities, still face harassment, intimidation and attack. Those who commit acts of violence against religious minorities are rarely punished.

In a similar case, in Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara province, an Ahmadiyya community have been living for six years in inadequate housing after their homes were attacked and burnt by a mob in February 2006. The authorities have failed to resolve their situation or bring those responsible to justice.

The right to freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed in Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party.

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