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Yudhoyono urged to let Shia refugees go home

Indonesian president asked to protect minorities

Yudhoyono urged to let Shia refugees go home

Pujatin, a Shia refugee, met with a presidential advisor after being denied a meeting with the president (Photo: Ryan Dagur)

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

July 2, 2013

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday urged Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to return hundreds of displaced Shia refugees to their home village in East Java and guarantee protection for religious minorities across the country.

The New-York based rights group was referring to more than 160 Shia families who were evicted from a sports complex in Sampang district last month and relocated to a high rise building in nearby Sidoarjo.

The families had fled their villages a year ago after being attacked by Sunni Muslims.

Prior to their eviction from the sports complex, the families had demanded a return to their home villages on Madura Island. Their demands have been ignored, the families say, accusing the local authorities of wanting to expel them from the area.

In a statement yesterday, HRW Asia Director Brad Adams called on President Yudhoyono to order local authorities to return the refugees to their homes and ensure their security.

“Permitting local authorities to act as the de facto agents of religious extremists sends a dangerous and destabilizing message that majority communities can do whatever they want against religious minorities,” he said.

He said President Yudhoyono and his government have tolerated sectarian violence for too long.

“It’s time for the national government to stop saying that they need to appease extremists to avoid violence since this has only emboldened them,” he said.

According to the Jakarta-based Institute for Democracy and Peace (Setara), violent attacks on religious minorities increased last year, from 244 in 2011 to 264 in 2012.

Meanwhile, Albert Hasibuan, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council met with representatives of the Shia refugees in Jakarta yesterday.

The Shia refugees were seeking a meeting with the president.

Hasibuan told them that Yudhoyono was unable to see them but agreed with them that relocating people does not resolve underlying problems.

“The president agrees that such a policy will not secure religious tolerance,” he said.

However, Pujatin, one of the Shia refugees who like many Indonesians goes by one name, insisted on seeing the president and challenged him to make good his promises.

“Show us that he cares for us. He must spare some time to see us,” he told 

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