June 1, 2008

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Islamic hard-liners broke up a religious tolerance rally Sunday, beating demonstrators with bamboo sticks and calling for the deaths of members of a Muslim sect they consider heretical, witnesses said.

About 200 Christians, moderate Muslims and members of Ahmadiyah — an Islamic group the government is considering banning — gathered at the National Monument in the nation’s capital of Jakarta to celebrate the country’s tradition of pluralism, said Gunawan Mohamad, a prominent magazine publisher who took part in the rally.

At least 12 people were injured and four of them were taken to hospitals after members of the Islamic Defenders Front rushed the square waving flags and swinging sticks, organizer Anick Tohari said.

“Repent or die,” shouted men dressed in green and white Islamic outfits as they punched and kicked bleeding protesters, video footage showed.

Children and elderly women demonstrators were caught up in the clash.

“We were suddenly attacked by armed people. Some of us were hurt and a car was damaged,” Mohamad said.

Ahmadiyah, considered heretical by fundamentalists, has been targeted since a government commission recommended in April that it be outlawed.

Its followers have been persecuted for decades after religious edicts, which deemed their faith deviant from traditional Islamic teachings, were issued by the leading Muslim organizations.

“Ahmadiyah has been declared as heretical, so holding a rally can be considered as a crime,” said Munarman, a spokesman for the alliance of militants. Like many Indonesians, he goes by a single name. “They are asking for it. We will not stop until they are completely disbanded.”

Indonesia is a secular country with a history of religious tolerance. But in recent years an extremist fringe has grown louder. The government, which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament, has been accused of caving in to that support.

Many mainstream Muslims dislike the 80-year-old Ahmadiyah, which is banned in conservative Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, because it does not consider Muhammad to be the final prophet.

Ahmadiyah is a registered, legal organization in Indonesia.

Local police chief Col. Heru Winarko said the rally deviated from a prearranged route, making it impossible for authorities to prevent the attack.

The demonstrators crossed the National Monument area “without asking for our protection,” he said. The site was later secured by hundreds of police, and further violence was apparently prevented.

Source: International Herald Tribune The Persecution