Indonesia’s Island of Intolerance: Ahmadis asked to convert to Sunni Islam or leave

Time is running out for the beleaguered Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on Bangka Island.

Bangka Island’s top elected official, Tarmizi Saat, told a crowd on January 24 that he would ensure the expulsion of all members of the religious minority by February 6. He warnedthat expulsion enforcement measures from Bangka Island, located off the east coast of Sumatra, could begin as early as January 27. Adding to the fear factor for Bangka’s Ahmadiyya is an open letter circulated on January 22 by a group of Bangka residents warning that they “won’t want to be held accountable if ugly things happen” should theAhmadiyya refuse to comply with the expulsion order.

Those threats constitute a dismaying escalation in a months-long abusive campaign of intolerance by local government officials and residents to compel the island’s Ahmadiyya to convert to Sunni Islam or leave the area. TheAhmadiyya identify themselves as Muslims, but differ with other Muslims as to whether Muhammad was the “final” monotheist prophet; consequently, some Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as heretics.

Bangka’s Ahmadiyya community have reason to fear for their safety. Militant Islamists have launched several violent attacks againstAhmadiyya in other parts of Indonesia since 2008, including an attack in Cikeusik in February 2011 which killed three Ahmadiyah men. Those attacks followed the issuance of a decree that year by the government of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.”

The government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is compounding the negative impact of the policy of religious intolerance by failing to intervene to protect Bangka’s Ahmadiyya. Instead, Jokowi’s government has been silent on the plight of that community even as the deadline for its expulsion fast approaches, and notwithstanding the expulsion would violate multiple fundamental human rights guarantees on security and that protect against forced expulsions and discrimination. The failure of leadership isn’t just a betrayal of the Ahmadiyah, it’s an abject failure to defend guarantees of religious freedom enshrined in Indonesia’s constitution. Jokowi has pledged to protect religious minorities and fight religious intolerance. Bangka Island’s Ahmadiyya community need Jokowi to deliver on that commitment before it’s too late.