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Secret report reveals how BIN misread threat to Ahmadiyah

Jakarta Globe - April 30, 2011

Nivell Rayda When the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front attacked demonstrators rallying in support of the embattled Ahmadiyah sect on June 1, 2008, many believed that fundamentalists would go to any length until they succeeded in ridding Indonesia of the minority Islamic group.

Many more had predicted that the issuance of a joint ministerial decree (SKB) which bans Ahmadis from practicing their faith in public and proselytizing a week after the rally would not be enough to halt intimidation and discrimination against members of the sect.

A secret document obtained by the Jakarta Globe, however, suggests there was one institution that believed otherwise: the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).

'Unfounded concerns'

A month after the June 2008 attack on the rally at the National Monument (Monas), BIN prepared a 180-page assessment on the expected implications of the decree. In the document, BIN claimed it had found no indications that persecution, torture or intimidation of the sect's members would continue.

"Concerns that there would be an escalation of violence following the enactment of the SKB, prove to be unfounded," according to the preface of this document, written by Bambang Karsono, a BIN expert on social and cultural affairs. "In fact, members of Ahmadiyah, who have become... targets of attacks, have so far been passive in response to the enactment.

"The reaction [to the SKB] from the opponents of Ahmadiyah appears to be modest. Although they still demand the complete disbandment of Ahmadiyah, apparently they feel that the banning of its [Ahmadiyah's] activities is enough," the document continues.

The same document, however, acknowledges the presence of hard-line groups that, according to BIN's assessment, "have the potential to use violence to deal with Ahmadiyah."

It then went on to identify the groups that might cause trouble: the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Islamic People's Forum (FUI), the Indonesian Committee for Solidarity with the Islamic World (Kisdi), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, Ittihadul Muballighin, the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council (DDII) and the Islamic Union (Persis).

But BIN had focused its attention mainly on the expected reactions within Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the country's largest Islamic organizations, which have always chosen peaceful methods in voicing objections against the Ahmadiyah.

Mufti Makaarim, executive director of the Institute for Defense, Security and Peace Studies, said he had no doubts whatsoever the documents obtained by the Globe were authentic.

"This is not a top-secret operations document. This is more of an academic analysis that BIN obtained. Still, it is not meant for public scrutiny," Mufti told the Globe, adding that the structure and format is consistent with other documents produced by the intelligence agency.

"BIN's suggestions on the implications of the SKB on Ahmadiyah are deeply flawed, because none of its predictions came true. The data is quite comprehensive so I assume the problem lies with the analysis," Mufti added.

Hard-liners underestimated

As events since the Monas rally have proven, attacks and persecution against Ahmadiyah communities nationwide grew at the hands of hard-line groups like the FPI, the FUI and the HTI.

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that Ahmadiyah communities in Indonesia have paid the price for BIN's flawed analysis.

"The document suggests that BIN naively underestimated the Islamist militant groups [in its analytical report]. Attacks on Ahmadiyah have steadily increased following the 2008 decree," she told the Globe.

Last year, an entire Ahmadiyah village in Bogor was ransacked. On Feb. 26, three Ahmadis were brutally murdered in the subdistrict of Cikeusik in Banten, by a lynch mob of some 1,500 people.

Ahmadis have not even found refuge in death. Last month, the grave of a recently deceased Ahmadi was dug up by a mob, and his body removed from a Bandung cemetery.

Instead of protecting the beleaguered community, the government has put the blame on Ahmadiyah, with Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali saying the sect should be disbanded.

A crucial tenet in Islam is that Muhammad was the final prophet. But mainstream Muslim organizations accuse Ahmadiyah of considering its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), to be a prophet as well.

Sect members have faced intense discrimination as a consequence. Ahmadis in West Nusa Tenggara live in abject poverty, shunned by mainstream Muslim communities. Ahmadiyah members say that in some areas the government refused to issue marriage certificates or renew their identification cards.

Limits to the rule of law

In its 2008 report, Indonesia: Implications of the Ahmadiyah Decree, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group predicted the SKB would increase the likelihood of religious vigilantism.

"The decree satisfied no one except a few members of the parliament," ICG said. "Hard-liners felt it did not go far enough and, scenting victory, pressed for more."

BIN in its analysis assumed that mainstream Muslim groups would take any Ahmadiyah violations of the decree to the courts of law. But the intelligence agency underestimated the violent nature of hard-line groups.

FPI figures responsible for the June 2008 attack were later sent to prison for a year, a punishment many saw as too lenient in relation to the damage they had done to the nation's image of religious tolerance and freedom.

Persecution against Ahmadiyah members occurred time and again because of police inaction, the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy has said.

The Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) recorded more than 150 cases of attacks and intimidation after the SKB was enacted. Perpetrators were brought to trial in just two cases. Those found guilty would be sentenced to less than a year in prison, while the actual masterminds behind the attack would often not even be prosecuted.

"Perceptions and promises", a 2010 study by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) showed that 30.2 percent of 1,000 respondents supported acts of violence against the sect.

While making no connection to the issuance of the decree, LSI researcher Adrian Sopa said that this was a sharp increase to a similar survey in 2005 that showed only 13.9 percent of respondents backed such moves. The 2005 survey was conducted after the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) reaffirmed Ahmadiyah's blasphemous status.

The MUI had declared Ahmadiyah deviant in 1980, but acts of violence against the sect were suppressed under former President Suharto's iron-fisted rule. However, as soon as the regime was toppled, some Muslim groups brought up the issue again.

After former President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid who many deemed a champion of religious tolerance stepped down in 2001, the call intensified and a string of violence against Ahmadiyah was set in motion.

The government also made empty pledges about the protection of Ahmadiyah's right to practice its beliefs. On Feb. 27, 2006, then Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni said that if Ahmadiyah would call its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a mere reformer and not a prophet of Islam "then all problems would be solved."

On Jan. 14, 2008, then JAI chairman Abdul Basit issued a document titled "Twelve Commitments of Ahmadiyah" which stated that the Ahmadiyah community believes Muhammad to be the final prophet of Islam.

But despite JAI's wish to be welcomed into the mainstream Muslim community, the ministry continued to push for the dissolution of Ahmadiyah or have it declared a separate religion, thus banning Ahmadiyah from using Islamic attributes like the Koran.

So far, the government has stopped short of disbanding Ahmadiyah altogether. The BIN document argues that Ahmadiyah met all of the formal requirements to legally exist.

'International embarrassment'

The BIN dossier also suggests the agency was concerned about Ahmadis members seeking asylum abroad, on the grounds of persecution. "This would be an international embarrassment. There is a need for diplomatic talks with countries presumed to be the destination of asylum seekers," the document says.

"It's disturbing that BIN seems more worried about the potential for embarrassment if Ahmadis seek refuge abroad than about their being beaten to death by other Indonesians," HRW's Pearson said.

Firdaus Mubarik, JAI spokesman, said BIN's underestimating the anti-Ahmadiyah movement was to have dire consequences. "They forgot about the potential for violence, which led to terror and murder."

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