JAKARTA, July 29 (UPI) — Civil rights groups in Indonesia heavily criticized the jail sentences given to 12 men accused of involvement in the deaths of minority Muslim sect members.
A court in Serang, the capital of Banten province on the western tip of Java island, handed down the sentences for the brutal killing by a mob of three Ahmadiyya sect members in the town of Cikeusik.
Five people also were seriously injured in the attack in early February.
Mainstream conservative Muslims say Ahmadiyya Muslims are heretics because they don’t believe Mohammed was the last prophet.
Among those sentenced was Dani bin Misra, 17, who smashed a person’s skull with a stone. He received a 3-month prison sentence for manslaughter. Another of the 12 men, Idris bin Mahdani, who allegedly led the mob, received a 5-month sentence in jail for possession of a machete, a report by Indonesia’s Antara news agency said.
Public interest in the attack has been high. A secretly filmed video of the riot in which the three Ahmadiyya members were bludgeoned to death was put on the Internet.
However, none of the defendants faced a murder charge.
Of the 12 men sentenced, three local Muslim clerics, said to have masterminded the riot of 1,000-1,500 hard-line Muslims, each received sentences of six months in jail.
One of the defendants “has been convincingly proven to have incited the people and thus encouraging them to commit a crime,” presiding judge Rusmanto said.
But the defendants’ lawyer told judges “our clients had been lured to the brawl because they were provoked by the Ahmadiyya followers.”
Human Rights Watch Asia said the sentences were a travesty of justice, all the more so because police and prosecutors used the 28-minute video in their investigation. The 12 defendants were identified from the video footage and can be seen beating Ahmadiyya members.
“The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyya will be treated lightly by the legal system. This is a sad day for justice in Indonesia,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said.
“Indonesian authorities should be making all-out efforts to bring to justice those who kill people because of their religious beliefs. The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyya will be treated lightly by the legal system.”
Among those criticizing the sentencing was the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.
“The United States encourages Indonesia to defend its tradition of tolerance for all religions, a tradition praised by President (Barack) Obama in his November 2010 visit to Jakarta,” the embassy said in a statement.
The trial and sentences highlighted the religious tensions within Indonesia.
Less than a week after the Cikeusik killings, police arrested one man after around 1,000 protesters damaged a courthouse, two police stations and two churches following a religiously sensitive legal case.
Around 400 policemen clashed with protesters outside a courthouse in the small town of Temanggung, central Java island, when people heard of the sentence handed down by the judge in a contempt of Islam case.
Judges sentenced a Christian, Antonius Richmord Bawengan, 58, to five years in jail. But the crowd protested that the punishment was too lenient and became restive, police said.
Bawengan was convicted of distributing a book whose title translated as “Oh My God, I Was Fooled” and other leaflets allegedly containing blasphemous writings.