Religious intolerance grows in Indonesia

Discriminated against for propagating “deviant” religious teachings, Gafatar members are being forcibly evacuated and repatriated to their original homes.

Hundreds of Gafatar members were evicted from West Kalimantan, the Indonesian territory they had settled in to achieve economic independence and food security, in January. A local mob in the area burnt their homes down, forcing the group to abandon their properties and agricultural lands. Eviction has led to the repatriation of around 1,600 of its members, who have been forced to return to their original homes, mostly located on the island of Java. They are now undertaking re-education programmes and psychologists have also been sent to provide help to traumatised members.


What is Gafatar

The Fajar Nusantara Movement, or Gafatar, is a religious group in Indonesia which has been suspected of mixing teachings from different faiths. This widespread belief has caused the group to be perceived as blasphemous in a country where the vast majority of the population is Muslim. Its leaders, however, maintain that the group was established to achieve one major goal, to create the conditions for food security which would help the country survive a global food crisis.


Gafatar declared illegal

When the Minister of Religious Affairs declared Gafatar to be illegal on the 13th of January, the understanding of the local Sunni majority in West Kalimantan was that they were being granted permission to attack the group. In June 2015 Gafatar leaders had already been sentenced to three to four years in prison for defaming Islam by acknowledging their leader as a messiah and spreading what were defined as deviant religious teachings. But the group has also gained in popularity, and dozens of people around Indonesia have been reported to have gone missing, as it is believed they have joined Gafatar.



The government’s failure to protect them

Many in Indonesia, including the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) blame the government, the Religious Affairs Ministry in particular, for having failed to fulfill its role as mediator and prevented such a tragedy from happening. This is yet another example of undisguised discrimination against minority groups with the government’s support, they believe. Today, Gafatar members are asking for compensation for the properties they were forced to leave behind in Kalimantan. They feel like they are being treated like criminals when, according to them, they didn’t bother the locals.


The Indonesian government is now in the process of re-integrating the members into society. However, many locals in the Javanese villages where they come from have already said that their former neighbours aren’t welcome. Also, not all Gafatar members have a home to go to since many sold their properties and gave their money to the organisation.


Featured image: The Gafatar compound burning © Jessica Helena Wuysang/Antara

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