Ezra Sihite, Febriamy Hutapea & Ismira Lutfia
Officials and rights activists have lashed out at National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo for proposing that a beleaguered Shiite community in East Java be relocated from its home village to prevent future attacks against it.
Hajriyanto Thohari, a deputy speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), said on Tuesday that Timur’s call, made a day earlier at a hearing before the House of Representatives, was both discriminatory and dangerous.
“How could it be that in a country based on the tolerant and egalitarian principles of Pancasila that such a discriminatory relocation program could be proposed?” he said in a text message.
“The idea of relocating a minority group does not bode well for the future of national integration in Indonesia. This proposal could result in blatant marginalization and would be very harmful to the minority groups involved.”
The small Shiite community from Nangkrenang village in Sampang district, Madura Island, was attacked on Aug. 26 by a mob of around 500 Sunni Muslims.
Two Shiites were killed, while dozens were injured, including seven who remain in critical condition, according to the latest reports. The attackers also set dozens of houses on fire, forcing the Shiites to take refuge at a sports stadium where some 400 men, women and children remain.
Another 70 Shiites from the village are unaccounted for or missing since the attack, rights activists say.
The police have been criticized for failing to prevent the attack despite knowing about it well in advance, as well as for writing off the incident as a family feud rather than a case of sectarian violence.
Lazy way out
Responding to legislators’ demands for a quick resolution to the case, Timur said on Monday that relocation of the victims was “the easiest way out.”
“If these people no longer have any communication with others in the area, and if their continued proximity results in more problems like this, then the easiest way out is to move them,” he said.
Hajriyanto said that instead of proposing to relocate the victims, the police should be enforcing the law by protecting minority groups like the Shiites.
He criticized the force for still not being familiar with the concept of national integration, an idea that does not recognize the dichotomy between majority and minority groups in society.
Zainal Abidin, a deputy director at the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), also took issue with Timur’s proposal, blasting it as an indication of the state’s “laziness” in addressing the issue at the heart of the violence.
“The government often tries to take the lazy way out of various problems by relocating the victims, including in the Sampang case,” he said.
He argued that moving the victims — a measure also proposed for several churches across West Java facing opposition from hard-line Islamic groups and local authorities — would do nothing to tackle the underlying problems and could give rise to further conflicts.
“This type of response constitutes a state-sponsored crime, in which the government is allowing the violence to happen and doing nothing to stop it,” Zainal said.
Alhulbait Indonesia (ABI), a Shiite organization, agreed that the police chief’s statement was symptomatic of the institutionalized discrimination against the group.
Husein Shahab, an ABI spokesman, argued that the recent history of animosity could be traced back to the publication of an edict by the East Java chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) branding the Shiites as heretics.
“The violence against the Shiites was triggered by the MUI’s edict. That edict has become the ammunition for certain groups to attack the Shiites,” he said.
Saan Mustopha, a Democratic Party legislator, also balked at the suggestion of moving the Shiite community, saying a relocation should be the last resort.
“Only if all other solutions fail should we even start considering relocating the community,” he said.
“The police shouldn’t try to resolve this issue with stop-gap measures.”
Saan, who attended Timur’s testimony at the House, warned that by treating the Sampang case lightly the police were sending out a dangerous message that serious offenses would not be dealt with harshly.
Can’t be bothered
Rumadi, coordinator of the Wahid Institute, was also opposed to the idea of relocating the Shiite community, pointing out that it would be unconstitutional to prohibit citizens from living in a given area.
He also said that the community at Nangkrenang village had lived in the area for generations and to force them out would have a profound social impact.
“They have strong, legitimate ties to the land there,” Rumadi said.
Another objection he brought up against relocation was that if it was carried out, it could soon become the police’s default response for dealing with other conflicts of a similar nature.
This, he said, would give credence to fears by rights groups that minority groups were indeed being treated as second-class citizens by being forced to bend to the will of the majority.
Rumadi also argued that the roots of the conflict would never be addressed through an “instant solution” such as relocation.
He said it would take the police and the government a good deal of time to come up with a resolution that addressed not just the latest outbreak of violence, but also its underlying causes.
“But it seems that the police chief can’t be bothered to make the effort to protect the rights of citizens,” he said.
Even before Timur’s statement, protection for minorities in the country had become a topic of international scrutiny.
In a statement over the weekend, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Jakarta on Monday, to “raise the plight of religious minorities” with Indonesian officials.
“Secretary Clinton should press the Indonesian government to take concrete steps to address rising religious intolerance,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director.
“Indonesia needs to recognize that oppressive laws and policies against religious minorities fuel violence and discrimination,” he added.
At a press conference on Monday night with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, Clinton did not specifically address the Sampang issue but held up Indonesia as an example of a democratic country striving for full human rights protection.
“We both agree that there should be no discrimination in any way against minorities,” she said.
“We will also continue to promote freedom and tolerance of all groups.”
Amnesty International was also quick to condemn the Sampang violence. In a statement released two days after the attack, the London-based rights group expressed its doubts about the authorities’ commitment to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.
“The failure of Indonesian authorities to adequately deal with previous attacks against the Shiite community raises serious questions about its willingness to ensure that the suspected perpetrators of the Sampang attack are brought to justice, to provide the victims with reparations, and to prevent further attacks on minority groups,” it said.
“Amnesty International continues to receive reports of attacks and intimidation against religious minorities in Indonesia, including Shiite, Ahmadiyah and Christian communities,” the group added.
“It is high time that [the Indonesian government] develops a concrete strategy to prevent and respond to incidents of religiously based violence, including strengthening respect for freedom of religion and religious tolerance which has clearly deteriorated in recent years.”
Amnesty also pointed out that the Shiites in Sampang had previously been attacked on Dec. 29 last year.
“A mob set fire to a place of worship, boarding school and various homes in the vicinity,” the group said.
“Security forces were seen filming and watching the attack as it occurred. Only one person was eventually charged and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for the attack.”
Nurcholis, deputy chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said his organization had recommended a series of measures to the Home Affairs Ministry in the wake of the earlier attack to prevent similar incidents, but the call went unheeded.
“In January this year, we asked the ministry to host talks with the Sampang district head and East Java governor on the issue, and we stressed that it was of prime national importance,” he said at a discussion over the weekend.
“This was a conflict that was spilling over, but our recommendations were not carried out as expected.”
If the local government had done its job, he went on, the latest violence in Sampang would never have occurred.
“I have repeatedly criticized the police for monopolizing the handling of this case, because I believe the real path to a solution is through a dialogue mediated by the local government,” Nurcholis said.