World News

Indonesian militants attack interfaith marchers

JAKARTA (Reuters) - About a dozen people were injured in central Jakarta on Sunday when a march to celebrate religious freedom and national unity was disrupted by hardline Muslims, one of the participants told Reuters.

Supporters of the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Faith gathered in central Jakarta to mark the anniversary of Pancasila, an Indonesian philosophy marked by belief in one God which was promoted by the country’s founding president, Sukarno.

The alliance’s members include moderates such as former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, also known as Gus Dur.

Members of the hardline Islamic Defenders’ Front, or FPI, attacked the marchers after some members urged tolerance over the treatment of Ahmadiyya, an Islamic sect that some Indonesians consider “deviant”.

Witnesses said several hundred people, including interfaith leaders, artists and scholars, had gathered in central Jakarta for the march. Police could not confirm the numbers.

Outbreaks of violence over religious issues have become more common in recent months, particularly related to Ahmadiyya.

Militant Muslim groups have attacked mosques and buildings associated with Ahmadiyya, and are lobbying the government to outlaw the sect.

Syafi’i Anwar, director of the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism, said he was hit on the head while attending the march, and that at least 12 people were beaten by FPI supporters using bamboo sticks.

“We just gathered before the start of our march related on the anniversary of Pancasila when people, who had FPI flags, attacked us,” said Anwar, adding that the attackers shouted: “If you are defending Ahmadiyya, you must be killed.”

Police declined to comment but said the matter was being investigated.

Television footage showed FPI supporters, who wore white Muslim skullcaps, throwing rocks at the crowd, as well as chasing and beating women, the elderly, and children.

An FPI spokesman said the group would continue to chase people who defend Ahmadiyya.

Around 85 percent of Indonesia’s 226 million people are Muslims, and most are moderate.

Reporting by Telly Nathalia