Indonesian Islamic minority protests mosque closure, fears growing intolerance

An Ahmadiyah follower saying his Friday prayers on the street in Bukit Duri Tanjakan, South Jakarta, on June 12, 2015, after hardline Islamic supporters blocked him from his mosque.
An Ahmadiyah follower saying his Friday prayers on the street in Bukit Duri Tanjakan, South Jakarta, on June 12, 2015, after hardline Islamic supporters blocked him from his mosque. PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Members of an Indonesian minority Islamic sect protested on Thursday against the forced closure of one of their mosques amid concerns over rising religious intolerance in a country which is home to world's largest Muslim population.

The closure of the Ahmadiyah mosque is the latest in a series of incidents across the country in which religious minorities have faced harassment from hardline Islamic groups, but a rare event in the capital Jakarta.

"This is a slap in the face of the local government of Jakarta because it's supposed to be a cosmopolitan and pluralistic place," Bonar Naipospos, director of rights NGO Setara Institute, told Reuters.

Ahmadiyah is one of several religious minorities in Indonesia. Hardline Indonesian Muslims accuse Ahmadiyah and other Muslim minorities of apostasy.

Members of a hardline Islamic group last week forced the cancellation of a religious event involving nearly 1,500 Protestants in Central Java, media said. Other groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have been known to break up prayer sessions at churches and Ahmadiyah and Shia mosques across Java, calling for them to be closed.

Police said the Ahmadiyah mosque was closed this week because it violated building permits. But members of the Ahmadiyah community said it has stood there for decades and that hardline Islamic groups had pressured authorities to seal it.

"Recently there has been an inclination among the police and the state apparatus to allow things like this to happen because they don't want the situation to escalate," said Yendra, a spokesman for the Indonesia Ahmadiyah Community.

A senior police official this week admitted officers were often too scared for their own safety to take on religious hardliners, media reported.

Purnama, the city's first Christian and ethnic Chinese governor, has himself been the target of FPI's protests but has yet to address the issue of religious intolerance.

Activists believe the closure of a mosque, in President Joko Widodo's backyard, may provide the impetus for the nine-month-old government to address the issue. "So far we have seen Jokowi appoint ministers who are progressive and open-minded about how to resolve these issues,"Naipospos said, using the president's nickname. "But we haven't seen meaningful change yet. There's a lot of homework to be done."