Alliance to report Maftuh to police

Jakarta, Indonesia - A group campaigning for the freedom to worship is planning to report Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni to the police for his recent comments about the Ahmadiyah sect.

The Alliance of Religious Freedom sent a warning to Maftuh on April 17, demanding the minister make a public apology for his offensive statement against Ahmadiyah, a small Islamic sect that was declared heretical last year by the Indonesian Ulema Council.

The warning in the form of a letter was signed by more than 300 people, including Muslim scholars, journalists, artists and activists from non-governmental organizations.

It gave the minister a week to apologize to the sect through media and affirm his commitment to religious pluralism in the country or the alliance threatened legal action.

Maftuh was quoted by several national newspapers calling Ahmadiyah a deviant faith, and saying its teachings went against Islam.

The minister also said he would issue a new decree to reconfirm the state's recognition of only six faiths -- Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confuscianism.

Moderate Muslim scholar Dawam Rahardjo, who leads the alliance, said the minister had failed to respond to the letter.

"Last Tuesday was the deadline. We will report this case to police. We are still discussing the exact time (to do so)," he said.

Dawam said his group would also take the case to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "The minister's action could endanger the President's Cabinet because (Maftuh's) statement was made in his capacity as a state official," Dawam added.

He said Maftuh should treat all religions and beliefs in Indonesia equally, and should not have made disparaging statements remarks about any faith.

"A (religious) minister must protect all religious believers from discrimination," Dawam added.

Uli Parulian Sihombing, a lawyer for the alliance, said the President should consider dismissing Maftuh from his ministerial post after making such discriminatory remarks.

The lawyer said the minister's comments were in violation of the Constitution that recognized pluralism. "Based on the five principles of the Pancasila (state ideology), he must understand that Indonesia is a country which allows its citizens to choose their own religions and beliefs," he said.

Another lawyer in the team, Saor Siagian, said the minister's statement was in breach of the law because it could lead to the rights of people belonging to minority religions being infringed.

He said the lawyers were also considering a plan to take the minister to court to sue him for defamation.

Dawam urged Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the country's two largest Muslim organizations, to join the action again the minister.

Under the Constitution, people had the right to believe in whatever religion they chose and this also meant choosing new faiths, the group said.