Makassar, Indonesia - Dozens of members of the Ahmadiyah sect were forcibly moved by police on Saturday after Muslim hard-liners blockaded their provincial office in South Sulawesi’s capital.
The Ahmadiyah center had since Friday been the subject of demonstrations by members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who demanded that the sect disband within 24 hours or risk the group’s wrath.
The protest came as Ahmadiyah members were holding an annual prayer gathering called Jalzah Salanah.
After hours of protests on Friday, the mob returned on Saturday evening, led by local FPI head Habib Reza, and repeated their demands for the Ahmadiyah to disband, calling members of the minority Islamic sect kafir (nonbelievers) and deviants.
They also attempted to break into the center but were held back by a 100-strong riot squad sent to the scene by the Makassar Police.
Fearing the protest would turn violent, South Sulawesi Police Chief Insp. Gen. Johny Waenal Usman ordered his officers to evacuate the Ahmadis sheltered inside the center.
However, the Ahmadis refused to leave and barricaded the doors from the inside, prompting extensive negotiations.
Finally, at 10 p.m., the group of four men, 25 women and 11 infants agreed to be bused back to their homes in police vans.
The FPI mob, however, demanded to be let inside to ensure no one was hiding in the center, which the police consented to.
Once inside, Habib and several of his followers seized items including accounts ledgers, miniDV video tapes and compact discs. They also tore down a signboard that read “ Jamaah Ahmadiyah ” (“Ahmadiyah Congregation”) — all without police intervention.
The FPI’s vigilantism and the police’s perceived complicity were lambasted by religious freedom advocates.
Qasim Mathar, a commissioner with the provincial branch of the Interreligious Communication Forum (FKUB), called the acts regrettable.
“The police failed to protect citizens of this country,” he said. “This is unacceptable because it now gives certain groups the notion that they hold sway over the police. The police should have gotten tough and ordered the FPI to leave the scene.”
Qasim also took the FPI to task for “always committing violence against humanity.”
He said the group’s intimidation of others to follow its extreme religious interpretations was in truth forbidden and would only sully the image of Islam.
The FPI has previously said that its demands for the Ahmadiyah to disband are based on a 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a 2008 joint ministerial decree that deems Ahmadiyah a deviant Islamic sect and restricts its religious activities.
Mainstream Muslims reject the Ahmadis’ belief that the sect’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet. Mirza established the Ahmadiyah movement in Qadian, northern India, in 1889.
Qasim said the MUI’s rulings were not legally binding, while the joint ministerial decree could not be used as a basis to disband the Ahmadiyah.
“Even if it was signed by 10 ministers, it would still not give anyone the legal standing to do this,” said Qasim, who is also the director of postgraduate programs at Makassar’s Islamic State University.
“To dissolve an organization, there are certain procedures to follow.”
On Sunday, a day after the forced evacuation, the Ahmadiyah center appeared empty, while its ground-floor office and second-floor mosque were in a state of disorder.
According to Ismail Hasani, from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were about 50 recorded cases of violence or intimidation against the Ahmadiyah community last year.