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Sunni leaders accused of violating Indonesia's constitution

Anti-Shia statements violate group's right to freedom of religion

Sunni leaders accused of violating Indonesia's constitution

Indonesian Shia leaders say they will sue a Sunni group for defaming their faith and violating their rights to freedom of religion. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

Indonesian minority religion leaders have accused hard-line groups from the Sunni Muslim majority and a local government official of violating the constitution by disseminating hate speech targeting Shia Muslims.

The Organization of Ahlulbayt for Social Support and Education (OASE), which mediates conflicts between religious groups, announced plans to sue the Anti-Shia National Alliance and a mayor in West Java province, a lawyer for the nonprofit organization said on Oct. 29.

At an Oct. 25 alliance meeting attended by thousands of Sunni Muslims, clerics issued several statements condemning the Shia religion. Among the speakers at the assembly were Muhammad Al Khaththath, secretary-general of the Islamic People's Forum, and Munarman, spokesman of the Islamic Defenders Front.

At issue were statements by speakers denouncing Shias as "heretics," and a decision by Bima Arya Sugiarto, the mayor of Bogor, to ban Shias from celebrating the Muslim holy day of Ashura. The ban did not apply to Sunnis.

Voaislam.com, an Islamic conservative website, quoted Kiai Athian, alliance chairman, as saying, "If there are people who still doubt that Shia is heresy, it means that those people do not know Islam."

Emilia Renita Az, an OASE coordinator, said the statements at the assembly and actions by the mayor constituted hate speech. "They can create divisions within society," she said.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the mayor had violated constitutional protections of freedom of religion.

"He cannot just issue such an order. In fact, he knows about our constitution, which guarantees every citizen's freedom of religion," he told ucanews.com.

Regarding the assembly, Father Susetyo suggested that law enforcement agencies should take action.

"Such a thing, of course, threatens the diversity that we have maintained so far," said Father Susetyo, former secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

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However, Sugiarto, the mayor, said that he issued the order after receiving intelligence reports that a serious conflict would take place if the Shias were allowed to celebrate Ashura.

"Based on information from the intelligence group ... there was a threat. Still, the ban was only about the context of that day, not the other days. A mayor doesn't have an authority to talk about religions," Sugiarto was quoted as saying by Indonesian news website Kompas.com on Oct. 28.

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, is constitutionally a secular state with strong Islamic influences. Sunni Muslims dominate most government and civic institutions. Christians comprise about 10 percent of the Indonesian population.

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