Indonesian Muslims protest the arrests of Muslim activists on “terrorist” charges

By Kazi Mahmood, IOL Southeast Asia Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR, September 20 (IslamOnline.net) – Indonesian Muslims, angered by the arrest of several scholars under the pretext of the so-called war on terror, warned that the situation was boiling in the world’s largest Muslim nation where authorities are taking further steps to put more people behind bars.

Failing to prevent a string of bombings in the country, the authorities have used all its powers to arrest a host of Imams and Muslim activists.

The government has also harassed many Muslim Da’wa activists in several provinces of the country, Muslim activists told IslamOnline.net Saturday, September 20.

Hundreds of members of the Mujahideen Council of Indonesia (MMI) demonstrated outside the National Police Headquarters after the Friday prayers demanding the release of Muslim activists currently in detention under the anti-terrorism decree issued by President Megawati Sukarnoputri earlier this year.

The MMI protested the detention of a dozen Muslim activists a week ago for their alleged involvement in terror activities in Indonesia, which police said were linked to the Marriott hotel bombing of last month, which killed 13 people and injured up to 149 others.

“It is becoming a war against Islamic activism in the country and this is a serious thing. Members of the Islamic Da’wa team called the Tabligh were also searched frantically upon their arrival at a recent conference of the Tabligh Jemaah in Indonesia,” Mohamad Aleem, member of the MMI, told IOL.

The protesters unfurled banners saying “Stop abductions”, “Muslim activists are not terrorists” and “Release Muslim activists”.

Police have arrested 18 people, including three on Friday, for their alleged involvement in terrorist acts in the country.

Anger

In an attempt to water down the anger of the Muslims, police chiefs in Jakarta met with several Muslim officials Friday to discuss the arrests, especially that police have failed to produce a single string of evidence substantiate the terrorism-related charges, he asserted.

National Police Chief Gen. Da’i Bachtiar met with Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) leaders, while National Police detectives chief Comr. Gen. Erwin Mappaseng and police spokesman Insp. Gen. Basyir A. Barmawi met with leaders of several Muslim organizations, Antara news agency reported Saturday.

On Wednesday, September 17, Da’i held a meeting with Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the country’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has about 40 million members across Indonesia and which is becoming more critical of the government and police for their arrests without warrants on the basis of the anti-terrorism decrees.

But Da’i said police would continue arresting “terrorist” suspects as part of its war on terrorism.

He, however, stressed that any arrest would follow the procedures set in the Criminal Law Procedures Code (KUHAP).

“To avoid misunderstanding, as soon as we arrest terror suspects, we will inform their family members,” he said after meeting with MUI leaders Amidhan, Nazri Adlani and Din Syamsuddin.

During the meeting, the MUI leaders gave their support for the war against terrorism, but questioned the way the arrests were carried out.

“We agree that the arrest of any terrorist suspect will not be linked to Islam or Muslim activists,” MUI secretary Din Syamsuddin said.

Legal Action

Leaders of several Muslim organizations, meanwhile, criticized police officers for arresting several activists, and accused them of torturing the detainees.

The arrest of the Muslim activists has also been criticized by social and human rights activists, who dismissed it as “unfair and inhuman.”

They said such legislations allowed the authorities to abuse their powers and detain innocent people.

Police, however, said those criticizing the arrests should not provoke the people, but should bring the matter to the courts, asserting that they would avoid using repressive measures against arrested “terrorist” suspects.

Responding to this statement, Abdul Khalik, a member of the Muslim Defender Team – a group of lawyers – said his team was preparing a lawsuit against the arrests, which he said were not in line with existing procedures.

The NU chairman Hasyim said Thursday that Gen. Da’i had admitted, during their meeting, mistakes in the arrests.

“I met with police chief Gen. Da’i Bachtiar last night. Da’i acknowledged that technically there was a mistake in the arrests of the activists, namely the delay in informing family members,” Hasyim told the Jakarta Post Saturday.

Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra questioned police’s arrests of Muslim activists, saying the arrests violated both human rights and existing laws.

Azyumardi said before making the arrests, police should have obtained permission from the head of the respective local court, as stipulated in Law No. 15/2003 on terrorism.

“In the law, it is stipulated that any arrest based on intelligence information must first be okayed by the court. In the arrests of the Muslim activists, however, police failed to do this, so in this case they violated the law,” said Azyumardi.

Sociologist Dr. Moeslim Abdurrahman, for his part, said the arrest of Muslim activists will prove counter-productive in the government’s war against terrorism as it will show that the Indonesian authorities are always against Muslims.

Islam is the main religion in Indonesia, with around 90 percent of the 220 million people are Muslims.