Australian, Indonesian Activists Detained Researching Minority Muslim Sect

Jakarta, Indonesia - Prominent Human Rights Watch activist Andreas Harsono and an Australian researcher were taken into custody by police in Sampang, East Java, on Monday as they attempted to investigate the local Shia Muslim population.

The Shia and Ahmadiyah, another minority Muslim sect, are facing growing persecution and discrimination from local people in Indonesia. The rising intolerance against minority groups in the country has received international condemnation, including from HRW.

Setara Institute and Democracy researcher Ismail Hasani, said Andreas and his colleague — who did not wish to be identified for fear of further recriminations — were interviewing a Shia follower in Nangkernang village when a group of people blockaded the access road leading to the village.

“These people, for a long time, have despised Shia followers in the area and have long sought to isolate the village,” Ismail said.

He said the pair were taken to Sampang Police headquarters and interrogated for nine hours but then released because the Police could not charge them with anything.

“However, since [the Australian researcher] had left her passport in their lodgings, the pair were handed over to the Surabaya Immigration office,” Ismail continued. “The questioning in Immigration continued until dawn and they were asked to come back again earlier today.”

Ismail believed the Immigration office in Surabaya was attempting to deport the Australian for not having a research permit and for failure to notify the government about the purpose of her visit.

Andreas told the Jakarta Globe that they were still waiting for the Australian’s passport at the Tanjung Perak immigration office in Surbaya.

“The Sampang police handed us to the immigration office at 3 a.m. today. We were questioned at the police station for entering a ‘conflict area’ midday Monday,” he said by text message.

“These are small town cops, it’s quite messy in Sampang and Surabaya. I want to get rid of these problems soon.”