Hundreds Protest in W. Java Over Clerics’ ‘Ahmadiyah’ Objections

Bandung, Indonesia - There is more to running a local government than just one’s religious beliefs.

This was the point being rammed home by hundreds of protesters who demonstrated outside the West Java governor’s office on Thursday, demanding he immediately appoint a city secretary for Garut.

Calling themselves the Garut Islamic People’s Forum, the protesters were making a stand against a formal objection lodged on Monday by a small group of clerics against three candidates nominated for the position — Iman Ali Rahman, Hermanto and Indriana Soemarto — because they were “suspected of following Ahmadiyah teachings.”

The group said that whether or not the candidates belonged to the minority Muslim sect was beside the point and Governor Ahmad Heryawan was doing the city’s residents a disservice by failing to fill the position.

“It seems that the provincial administration is deliberately dragging its feet and politicizing this matter, including bringing up the issue of the Ahmadiyah,” said Dadang Munawar, a spokesman for the group.

“We want the governor to quickly respond to the wishes of the people and appoint a city secretary. The issue seems to be heavily politicized and the process is being deliberately slowed down.”

Asep Ramdani, who heads the local branch of the Indonesian Association of Villages (Apdesi) in Garut, said crucial issues such as the city budget, combating flooding and addressing road and transport problems were left unresolved while the debate over the appointment of the city secretary was dragged out.

“At this point, no matter who is appointed, all 400 villages [in Garut] will accept,” Asep said.

Separately, the governor said there should be no reason why the public services could not be carried out without a city secretary. He said that an extension to the retirement age had been specially ordered so that the current secretary, Hilman Faridz, could continue on the job.

Meanwhile, Ricky Kurniawan, a regional councilor for West Java, said the appointment of the city secretary had been marred by slander, discrimination and even rumors that the governor himself had his own candidate for the post.

During a hearing at the Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD) on Monday, a dozen clerics and community leaders said the three men nominated by the district head for the post belonged to the area’s much-maligned Ahmadiyah community.

Ahmad Hidayat, one of the clerics at the hearing, claimed the candidates’ association with Ahmadiyah, whose followers have effectively been banned by the government from practicing their faith because it is considered a deviant sect, was grounds for all the nominations to be repealed.

However, Garut’s district head, Aceng Fikri, has said the claims are questionable.

“They’ve been accused of being Ahmadiyah, but there’s nothing to indicate this, so we could be dealing with a baseless accusation here,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.

“I’m not going to comment on it because I’m bound to be accused of discrimination,” he added.

Although he declined to be drawn on whether or not he would nominate an Ahmadi to his administration, Aceng said that none of the candidates belonged to the sect. One of the candidates, he said, had even gone so far as to sign a sworn statement before a group of Muslim clerics to deny that he was an Ahmadi.

Aceng maintained that all three candidates had met the requirements to become city secretary and for that reason he would not withdraw their nominations.