Wed, Feb 09, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Mob torches churches in Indonesia

RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE:About 1,500 protesters took to the streets in Java and threw stones at the police, who responded with tear gas and warning shots

AFP, TEMANGGUNG, INDONESIA

A Muslim mob burned churches and clashed with police in Indonesia yesterday as they demanded the death penalty for a Christian man convicted of blaspheming against Islam, police said.

Two days after a Muslim lynch mob killed three members of a minority Islamic sect, crowds set two churches alight as they rampaged over the prison sentence imposed on defendant Antonius Bawengan, 58.

A court in the Central Java town of Temanggung had earlier sentenced the man to five years in jail, the maximum allowable, for distributing leaflets insulting Islam.

However, this only enraged the crowd, who said the sentence was too lenient, police said.

“Today was the climax of the trial ... The mob shouted that he should receive the death sentence or be handed over to the public,” Central Java province police spokesman Djihartono said.

“There are two churches that have been burned. The windows were shattered and the roofs were charred ... There is also another church that was damaged,” he said.

About 1,500 protesters took to the streets and threw stones at the police, who responded with tear gas and warning shots into the air.

The latest outbreak of religious violence in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country came as pressure mounted on the government to tackle religious extremism and demonstrate its oft-touted commitment to diversity.

Leading international human rights groups condemned Sunday’s onslaught on the Ahmadiyah Muslim sect in West Java and demanded an investigation into why police failed to stop the mob.

They joined the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an autonomous board that advises the US government, in calling for a review of laws seen as persecuting minority faiths, such as the 1965 blasphemy law.

“Indonesia is a tolerant county that should be more intolerant of extremist groups,” commission chair Leonard Leo said in Washington overnight in response to Sunday’s violence. “It’s time the Indonesian government brings them to account for the violence and hatred they spread.”

A video of Sunday’s attack shows fanatics armed with machetes, sticks and rocks screaming Allahu Akbar (God is Great) as they set upon their victims in a wild frenzy.

They are seen beating and stoning their victims to death, then continuing to beat the corpses in front of police officers.

Three sect members were killed, five suffered extensive injuries and barely escaped alive, and another two remain missing, police said.

The Ahmadiyah break with most Muslims by believing their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, not Mohammed, was the final prophet of Islam.

“Police should be studying the video closely to identify and apprehend the attackers,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“There needs to be a full investigation into why the police absolutely failed to prevent this mob from going on a violent rampage,” she said.

Police have said they are questioning two suspects but have made no arrests.

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