Convicted Hindu Nationalist Legislator in India Released on Bail


Stunned Christians suspect bias in case of politician’s role in Orissa violence.

NEW DELHI, July 30 (CDN) — Less than a month after Orissa state legislator Manoj Pradhan was sentenced to seven years of prison for his part in anti-Christian mob violence in 2008, he was released on bail pending his appeal.

Along with fellow Hindu nationalist Prafulla Mallick, Pradhan on June 29 was convicted of causing grievous hurt and rioting in connection with the murder of a Christian, Parikhita Nayak. Justice B.P. Ray heard the petition on July 7, and the same day he granted Pradhan and Mallick bail conditional on posting bail bond of 20,000 rupees (US$430) each.

Pradhan and Mallick were released from jail on July 12 and await the outcome of an appeal to the Orissa High Court.  

Attorney Bibhu Dutta Das said that ordinary people don’t get bail so easily when convicted of such crimes, and he questioned how Pradhan could be granted release just for being a legislator.

“It takes years for convictions in High Court,” Das told Compass. “We will not sit silent. We will challenge this bail order in the [New Delhi] Supreme Court very soon.”

The Christian community expressed shock that someone sentenced to seven years in prison would get bail within seven days of applying for it.

“I am very disappointed with the judiciary system,” said Nayak’s widow, Kanaka Rekha Nayak, who along with her two daughters has been forced into hiding because of threats against her. “I went through several life threats, but still I took my daughters for hearings whenever I was called by the court, risking my daughters’ lives – certainly not for this day.”

In addition to the bail, the court has issued a stay order on the 5,000 rupee (US$107) fine imposed on Pradhan and Mallick. Attorney Das told Compass the decision was biased, as the Lower Court Record was not even consulted beforehand.

“This is the normal court procedure, and it was bypassed for Pradhan,” he said. “The judgment was pre-determined.”

Dibakar Parichha of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese told Compass, “Sometimes the judicial system seems mockery to me. One court convicts him, and another one grants him bail.”

The rulings are demoralizing to those who look toward the courts for justice, he said.

“There is a very powerful force behind this. It is not as simple as it looks,” Parichha said.

Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, said he was surprised by the orders.

“While it is a legal right for anybody to get bail, it is surprising that Pradhan was wanted in so many cases, and he can coerce and influence witnesses,” Dayal said. “His petition should not have been granted.”

The two Hindu nationalists were convicted by the Phulbani Fast Track Sessions Court I Judge Sobhan Kumar Das. Pradhan, member of the state Legislative Assembly (MLA) from G. Udayagiri, Kandhamal for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), filed a petition stating that his name was not mentioned in the original First Information Report filed by Kanaka Rekha Nayak, but that he was dragged into the case later.

The bail order includes a warning to Pradhan to refrain from intimidating witnesses, stating, “The petitioner shall not threaten the witnesses examined.”

Rekha Nayak, along with her daughters Lipsa Nayak (4 years old when her father was killed) and Amisha Nayak (then 2 years old) were eyewitnesses to the murder of her 31-year-old husband, a Dalit Christian from Tiangia, Budedipada, in Kandhamal district. He was murdered on Aug. 27, 2008.

Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, urged the Christian community to keep hope.

“The case is still on, not that it has come to an end,” he said. “There is a move that is being made to take the case further.”

Attorney Das has said he plans to appeal Pradhan’s sentence of seven years, in hopes of increasing it to life imprisonment.

 

Cases

Pradhan, who denies any wrongdoing, has been charged in 14 cases related to the August-September 2008 anti-Christian attacks. In seven of the cases he has been acquitted, he was convicted of “grievous hurt” in the Nayak case, and six more are pending against him.

Of the 14 cases in which he faces charges, seven involve murder; of those murder cases, he has been acquitted in three.

Cases have been filed against Pradhan for rioting, rioting with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly, causing disappearance of evidence of offense, murder, wrongfully restraining someone, wrongful confinement, mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy houses, voluntarily causing grievous hurt and voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means.

Pradhan was also accused of setting fire to houses of people belonging to the minority Christian community.

The Times of India reported Pradhan as “one of the close disciples” of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati, whose assassination on Aug. 23, 2008, touched off the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal and other parts of Orissa.

Rekha Nayak filed a complaint and a case was registered against Mallick and others for murder, destroying evidence, rioting and unlawful assembly. Pradhan was arrested on Oct. 16, 2008, from Berhampur, and in December 2009 he obtained bail from the Orissa High Court.

Despite his role in the attacks, Pradhan – campaigning from jail – was the only BJP candidate elected from the G. Udayagiri constituency in the 2009 Assembly elections from Kandhamal district.

In recent court actions, Fast Track Court-II Additional Sessions Judge Chittaranjan Das on July 21 acquitted nine persons who had been arrested in the Tikabali area for various offenses, including arson, due to “lack of evidence.” The main charge against them was torching of a church on Aug. 28, 2008 at Beladevi village.

At least 132 persons have been convicted in different cases related to the 2008 violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, state Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said on July 19. Patnaik said that 24 members of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal (Youth Wing of World Hindu Council) and VHP have been arrested and jailed.

Revenue and Disaster Management minister S.N. Patro said on July 21 that the 55 Christian places of worship were damaged in Tikabali block; 44 in G. Udaygiri; 39 in Raikia; 34 in K. Nuagaon; 19 in Baliguda; 16 in Daringbadi; nine in Phulbani; six in Kotgarh; five in Tumudibandha; and one each in Phiringia and Chakapada blocks.

 

SIDEBAR

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka - Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh accused a pastor in Aldur of forceful conversion on July 24 and threatened him, telling him not to preach about Jesus. The All India Christian Council reported that the extremists filed a police complaint against Pastor Anand Kumar of forceful conversion. Both police and extremists ordered Pastor Kumar to remove the cross and name plate of the church. At press time area Christians were taking steps to resolve the issue.

Jammu and Kashmir – The state’s Foreigners Registration Officer reportedly issued a notice to a senior Christian worker to leave India by July 20 after a false complaint of forceful conversion was filed against him. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the state succumbed to pressure by Muslim extremists to deport Father Jim Borst, who has run Good Shepherd School in the Kashmir Valley since 1963. The school has been attacked on two occasions by members of other schools who felt they were unable to compete with it. For eight years these groups have led a campaign against Borst, claiming he was forcibly converting people under the guise of providing education. Borst, who denies the charge, has a valid visa till 2014. The interior minister reportedly said he had no knowledge of the deportation order, and Borst’s superiors indicated he would not leave.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists on July 18 disrupted Christian worship in Barwaha, near Indore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Pastor Subash Chouhan of the Indian Evangelical Team was leading Sunday worship when the extremists stormed in on the terrified Christians. They accused Pastor Chouhan of forceful conversion, photographed the congregation and told the pastor to close his tailoring school, which includes non-Christian students. This is the second time Pastor Chouhan has been arrested on false charges of forceful conversion; previously he was jailed for three days. The case was pending at press time.

Punjab – Police arrested Christians on July 10 after Hindu nationalists beat them, falsely accusing them of forcible conversion in Gurdaspur. Members of the Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPCG) Western Region were visiting houses in the area on a social outreach mission when a group of extremists began to argue with them and then started beating four of them with their fists and shoes. Later they handed the Christians over to police, along with three more Christian men and five Christian women, complaining that they were converting people from the Hindu religion. Pastor Promod Samuel, along with the IPCG head A.M. Samuel, rushed to the Gurdaspur City police station to help the Christians, but officers detained them as well. Samuel told Compass that the president of the Hindu extremist groups Shiva Sena and Bajrang Dal, as well as many other Hindu nationalist leaders, gathered at the police station clamoring for officers to file charges against the 14 Christians. Hearing of the arrests, Christian leaders of Gurdaspur requested their release. The Christians were not released until Samuel signed an agreement assuring that Christians would not enter any non-Christian home. “The extremists are continuously following us around, to keep a check on us.” Samuel said.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists toppled a church building and attacked Christians on July 6 in Parawada, Visakhapatnam. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that local Hindu extremists were jealous and angry that a church stood at the entrance of the village and urged the Christians to move. The extremists threatened to attack the Christian community, claiming that they would allow no church in the area. When the church pastor refused to give in to their demand, they began damaging his household goods and pulled down the church building. The extremists also stopped the Christians from drawing water from a well. AICC was taking steps to resolve the matter at press time.

Madhya Pradesh – Police on July 4 arrested and charged two Christians under the state’s controversial “anti-conversion” law at Jawahar Nadar, Adharthal. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), a member of the Apostolic Christian Assembly, Shravan Kuman Dubey, invited Vishal Lal to lead a prayer service for his 6-year-old son Ravi’s birthday. Around 7:30 p.m., during prayer, a mob of nearly 75 Hindu nationalist extremists accompanied by police entered the house and falsely accused those present of forced conversion, taking 14 Christians to the Adhartal police station. After nearly four hours, police charged Shravan Kumar and Vishal Lal with forcible conversion and sent the others home. With GCIC intervention, both were released on bail the next day.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists belonging to the Dharma Raksha Samithi (Religion Protection Council) on June 28 stopped a Christian school bus and questioned young elementary students in Indore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the bus was carrying Christian students from Orissa to their school in Indore. The extremists ordered the young students to get out of the bus and asked them whether forceful conversion was taking place, frightening the schoolchildren as police remained mere spectators. After threatening to harm the Christians if they carried out any Christian activities, they let them go. Area Christian leaders condemned the incident as a sign of Hindu extremists’ “reign of terror” in the state and demanded an investigation.

Karnataka – On June 13 in Anekal, Bangalore, Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh beat a pastor whom they accused of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that, in an apparently premeditated attack, an unidentified extremist telephoned Pastor Sam Joseph to come and pray for a sick person. The pastor agreed, only to be taken to a gathering of Hindu extremists with media people. The extremists accused the pastor of forceful conversion, beat him up and dragged him to Hebbagudi police station. Police released the pastor without charges after forcing him to agree that he would no longer lead Christian meetings.

Himachal Pradesh – State officials on June 5 sealed a Mission India building, claiming that it belongs to “outsiders,” in Bari, Mandi district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI) advocacy desk reported that the government closed the building, which functioned as a Bible study center and orphanage, claiming that no land in the area could be owned by non-native people. Pastor Sam Abraham told Compass that Mission India purchased the plot in 2005, constructed a building in 2007 and began using it as a Bible study center and orphanage in 2008. In July 2008, Hindu extremists filed a complaint against Mission India of forceful conversion and demanded the building be shut down. The extremists have since accused the Christians of forceful conversion, verbally abused them for their faith and threatened to kill them if they did not leave. Mission India officials asserted that the land legally belongs to them and that they have all necessary documents. At press time the Christians were looking for a place to rent that would accommodate at least 10 orphans.

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

West Bengal, August 31 (Compass Direct News) – Hindu hardliners have again attacked the Christian community in Bishnupur and threatened to kill them if they continue to practice their faith. About 15 Hindu extremists armed with knives and heavy rods of bamboo and iron shouted anti-Christian slogans as they attacked Khagen Majhi on Aug. 20. Threatening the Christian with violent “incidents like Orissa’s Kandhamal situation,” they commanded that he recant his Christian faith, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Running from one Christian house to another, the enraged Hindu extremists also beat Manik Jana and verbally abused and manhandled Jharna Pradhan. Similar violence took place in the same area on July 29, as well as on Christmas Day of 2006. Area Christians filed a police complaint at Bishnupur police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Andhra Pradesh – Suspected Hindu extremists set aflame a newly built church building in Mahasamudram, destroying it on Aug. 20. Best Friends Church was built with the permission of local authorities and was scheduled to be inaugurated on Aug. 30, reported the All Indian Christian Council. The next morning local Christians went to the site to find the church building in ashes. Pastor A. John filed a complaint at Bangarupalem police station. A police investigation is underway.

West Bengal – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 20 attacked two Christians in Amtala, Kolkatta. The All India Christian Council reported that eight extremists accused two unidentified Christians of forceful conversion and filed a police complaint against them after forcing villagers to sign a letter of complaint. Christian leaders have taken the matter to authorities, and a police investigation is underway.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists attacked the Mayer Memorial Church building and set fire to three vehicles belonging to Christians on Aug. 17 in Hubli. A Compass contact said the extremists were opposing a Christian rally organized by the church. Area Christians said they believe the attack was planned well in advance as the extremists arrived with media. The church cancelled the rally, and police provided protection to the Christian community.

Karnataka – Members of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) on Aug. 16 disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Karwar, accused the pastor of forceful conversion and threatened him with violence if he continued Christian activities. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at 7 p.m. a church leader of New Life Fellowship identified only as Pastor Quadros was conducting a prayer meeting in a church member’s house when the extremists barged in. The intolerant Hindus accused the pastor of forceful conversion, searched the house and took Christian literature. The VHP filed a complaint against the pastor, and police ordered him to inform them about any future Christian activities.

Kerala – Police on Aug. 12 arrested Christians based on false allegations of destroying Hindu holy books in Vythiri, Wayanad district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Hindu extremists of the local Hindu Ikkaya Vedhy group surrounded the house of Karthyani Amma, a Hindu in Laksham colony, near Vythiri police station, as her son – a convert to Christianity identified only as Manikandan – was cleaning her home along with evangelist Sunny Joseph. The extremists created a disturbance, and Christians became embroiled in the subsequent uproar. Amma filed a complaint against the Christians for destroying Hindu holy books and articles used in rituals. The Christians were charged with promoting communal disharmony, house trespass, and damaging property.

Karnataka – Hindu hardliners on Aug. 9 disrupted the worship of Indian Missionary Service and beat Pastor V. James in Gulbarga. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that at around 10 a.m., about 20 Hindu extremists shouting anti-Christian slogans stormed into the worship service and accused the pastor of forceful conversion. They dragged the pastor out to the street, kicking, punching and beating him. The pastor fled to Ganigapura police station and filed a complaint against the extremists, reported EFI. Later in the evening, the intolerant Hindus went to the pastor’s house and assaulted him again, chasing him, his wife and four children away from the village. The pastor has relocated to another area. No arrests had been made at press time.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 9 ordered 20 Christians to leave their home village of Gulbarga because they had put their trust in Christ. The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) reported that village leaders in alliance with the Hindu extremists were reacting against a recent baptism service conducted by Pastor Sukruuth Raj. AICC reported Pastor Raj, who was instrumental in the baptized person coming to faith in Christ, as saying “all the believers are from the same village, and they are going to stay there.”

Maharashtra – About 45 Hindu extremists attacked two Gospel for Asia Christian workers, accused them of luring people to convert to Christianity and took their equipment on Aug. 8 in an undisclosed area in Maharashtra, according to a Christian source. Two Christian workers identified as Jayant Mehta and Dayanand Tambe were screening a film about Jesus that was attended by many villagers, reported the source. As the Christians were getting ready to go home, the Hindu extremists rushed at them and snatched their film equipment, then began beating them. They took the Christians to a police station and charged them with bribing people to convert to Christianity, giving fake names of people who would supposedly testify against them. After local Christian leaders intervened, the two Christian workers were released the next morning. The film equipment was returned to the Christians on Aug. 10 after police confirmed that the allegations were false.

Kerala – Hindu extremists armed with swords on Aug. 7 barged into the prayer hall of the Full Gospel Church for God, attacked two Christians and vandalized the facility in Pullad. Hindu newspapers reported that about 25 extremists, two armed with swords, attacked Pastor Joe Kaithavana and a church member identified only as Deepu at around 10:30 p.m. and vandalized the prayer hall. The Christians sustained injuries and received hospital treatment. Koipram police have registered a case against the assailants. Member of Legislative Assembly K. Sivadasan Nair visited the site, condemned the attack and called for the immediate arrest of the extremists.

Karnataka – On Aug. 7 in Haveri, a group of Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused a pastor from Every Home Crusade church of forceful conversion and threatened to beat him if he continued his ministry in the area. A church representative told Compass that about 25 extremists went to Pastor Ajit Kumar’s house at around 11 a.m., spoke derogatorily about his faith, and warned him not to conduct a worship meeting on Aug. 10 or face serious consequences. The pastor registered a case against the extremists, and the Sunday church service took place on Aug. 10 under police protection. No arrests had been made at press time.

Karnataka – Police arrested two Christians for distributing pamphlets and conducting a medical camp on Aug. 4 in Mosarukunte village, Tumkur district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that Pastor M. Shivanna, Vijay Kumar and some doctors were conducting a medical camp when the Hindu hardliners along with the village head objected to their activity, claiming that they had not obtained prior permission. The extremists later filed a police complaint, accusing the Christians of distributing gospel pamphlets to forcefully convert people to Christianity. Police arrested the two Christians under section 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code to ensure “good behavior from suspected persons,” and later they were released on bail.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists in Rewa, including a woman said to practice sorcery and witchcraft, burned down the home of a Christian on Aug. 2. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that when Raj Bahor accepted Christ and began attending the church of Pastor Heeralal Kushwaha, the Hindu woman in the neighborhood found the spells she cast on Bahor prior to his conversion had become ineffective. She and other Hindu extremists opposed to Bahor’s new faith burned down his house, and local Christians filed a police complaint. An investigation is underway.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) on Aug. 1 attacked Christians charging large-scale, forceful conversion; they forced the Christians to wear tilak, a Hindu symbol on the forehead, and threatened to kill them if they went ahead with church construction in Mahabubnagar. The All Indian Christian Council reported that Pastor B.Y. Dass of the Smarna Prayer Home Church had obtained land to build a church with permission from the village head. Upon hearing of the Christians’ plan to build a church building, the VHP came to the site with the threats and accusations. At press time local Christian leaders were taking the matter to authorities.

Orissa – The Rev. S.P. Lima of Cross International Ministries, operator of Agape Manor International Residential School, has been arrested and imprisoned since January 2008 in Baragarh and Sambalpur after Hindu extremists falsely accused him of raping a schoolgirl and feeding schoolchildren beef while claiming that it was mutton, according to his brother. Lima’s brother, Dayanidhi Lima, told Compass that Hindu extremists filed a false complaint against his brother because Rev. Lima had refused to meet their demand that they give them 50,000 rupees (US$1,035) to build a Hindu temple. A medical and DNA examination of the girl at Burla Medical College showed no evidence of rape. The girl had left the school on Jan. 5, 2008, and the First Information Report naming the pastor was filed on Jan. 12 of that year. Nevertheless he was arrested on Jan. 28, 2008. Area Christians maintained that the extremists pressured the parents of the girl to falsely accuse the pastor. The Additional District Session Court on June 12 of this year imposed a fine of 10,000 rupees (US$207) and sentenced Rev. Lima to 10 years in prison; he was transferred to Sambalpur Prison, where he is subject to various kinds of punishment.

Report from Compass Direct News 

INDONESIA: SHARIA-BASED LAWS CREEP INTO HALF OF PROVINCES


Islamic-based legislation may be a key issue in this year’s elections.

DUBLIN, February 2 (Compass Direct News) – As candidates hit the campaign trail in preparation for Indonesia’s presidential election in July, rights groups have voiced strong opposition to an increasing number of sharia-inspired laws introduced by local governments. They say the laws discriminate against religious minorities and violate Indonesia’s policy of Pancasila, or “unity in diversity.”

With legislative elections coming in April and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likely to form a coalition with several Islamic parties for the July presidential election, such laws could become a key campaign issue.

Although Aceh is the only province completely governed by sharia (Islamic law), more than 50 regencies in 16 of 32 provinces throughout Indonesia have passed laws influenced by sharia. These laws became possible following the enactment of the Regional Autonomy Law in 2000.

The form of these laws varies widely. Legislation in Padang, West Sumatra, requires both Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear headscarves, while a law in Tangerang allows women found “loitering” alone on the street after 10 p.m. to be arrested and charged with prostitution. Other laws include stipulations for Quran literacy among schoolchildren and severe punishment for adultery, alcoholism and gambling.

“Generally the legal system regulates and guarantees religious freedom of Indonesian citizens … but in reality, discrimination prevails,” a lawyer from the legal firm Eleonora and Partners told Compass.

Some regencies have adopted sharia in a way that further marginalizes minority groups, according to Syafi’I Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism.

“For instance, the Padang administration issued a law requiring all schoolgirls, regardless of their religion, to wear the headscarf,” he told the International Herald Tribune. This is unacceptable because it is not in line with the pluralism that the constitution recognizes.”

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 29 of the country’s constitution, he added. “Therefore the government must assist all religious communities to practice their beliefs as freely as possible and take actions against those who violate that right.”

While Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has publicly denounced the implementation of such laws, other groups actively support them. The Committee for the Implementation and Maintenance of Islamic Law (KPPSI) has held several congresses in Makassar, South Sulawesi with the goal of passing sharia-inspired legislation and obtaining special autonomy for the province, similar to that in Aceh.

KPPSI has also encouraged members to vote for politicians who share their goals, according to local news agency Komintra.

 

‘Threatening’ Decision

In February of last year, Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto declared that the government saw no need to nullify some 600 sharia-inspired laws passed by local governments. His announcement came after a group of lawyers in June 2007 urged the government to address laws that discriminated against non-Muslims.

Moderates were alarmed at Mardiyanto’s decision, fearing it would encourage other jurisdictions to pass similar laws. Last August, Dr. Mohammad Mahfud, newly re-elected as head of the Constitutional Court, slammed regional administrations for enacting sharia-inspired laws.

“[These] laws are not constitutionally or legally correct because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national integrity,” he told top military officers attending a training program on human rights, according to The Jakarta Post.

Mahfud contended that if Indonesia allowed sharia-based laws, “then Bali can pass a Hindu bylaw, or North Sulawesi can have a Christian ordinance. If each area fights for a religious-based ordinance, then we face a national integration problem.” According to Mahfud, sharia-based laws would promote religious intolerance and leave minority religious groups without adequate legal protection.

Under the 2000 Regional Autonomy Law, the central government has the power to block provincial laws but showed little willingness to do so until recently when, bowing to pressure from advocacy groups, it pledged to review 37 sharia-based ordinances deemed discriminatory and at odds with the constitution.

Such reviews are politically sensitive and must be done on sound legal grounds, according to Ridarson Galingging, a law lecturer in Jakarta.

“Advocates of sharia-based laws will stress the divine origin of sharia and resist challenges [that are] based on constitutional or human rights limits,” he told The Jakarta Post. “They maintain that sharia is authorized directly by God, and political opposition is viewed as apostasy or blasphemy.”

 

Empowering Vigilantes

A national, sharia-inspired bill regulating images or actions deemed pornographic sparked outrage when presented for a final vote in October last year. One fifth of the parliamentarians present walked out in protest, leaving the remainder to vote in favor of the legislation.

The bill provided for up to 15 years of prison and a maximum fine of US$1.5 million for offenders.

“This law will only empower vigilante groups like the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI),” Eva Sundari, a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) told reporters. FPI is widely-regarded as a self-appointed moral vigilante group, often raiding bars and nightclubs, but also responsible for multiple attacks on churches.

“Many of the members are preparing for elections and looking for support among the Islamic community,” she added. “Now they can point to this law as evidence that they support Islamic values.”

Although several Golkar Party politicians support sharia-based laws, senior Golkar Party member Theo Sambuaga has criticized politicians for endorsing such legislation to win support from Muslim voters. Several major parties openly back sharia laws, including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party, and the Crescent Star party.

 

Key Election Issue

Sharia-based laws may become an even hotter election issue this year as a change to the voting system means more weight will be given to provincial candidates.

Political analysts believe Yudhoyono must form a coalition with most if not all of the country’s Islamic parties in order to win a majority vote against the Golkar party, allied for this election with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDIP.

The coalition Yudhoyono could form, however, likely would come with strings attached. As Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance wrote in September 2008, “The more the president needs the Islamists, the more they can demand of him.”

In 2004, Yudhoyono partnered with the NU-sponsored National Awakening Party, the National Mandate Party (founded by the Islamic purist organization Muhammadiyah) and the PKS to achieve his majority vote. Analysts predict PKS will again be a key player in this election.

Few realize, however, that PKS draws its ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group formed in Egypt in 1928 with a firm belief in Islamic world dominance. Crushed by the Egyptian government in the 1960s, members of the Brotherhood fled to Saudi Arabia, where they taught in the nation’s universities – influencing the future founders of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Sudan’s National Islamic Front.

The Brotherhood took root at a university in Bandung, West Java in the 1970s in the form of Tarbiyah, a secretive student movement that eventually morphed into the Justice Party (JP) in 1998. Winning few votes, JP allied itself with a second party to form the PKS prior to the 2004 elections.

Since then, PKS has gained widespread support and a solid reputation for integrity and commitment to Islamic values. Simultaneously, however, PKS leaders are vocal supporters of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, says the two organizations have much in common. In its founding manifesto, PKS calls for the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Unlike JI, however, “the party can use its position in Parliament and its … network of cadres to advance the same goals incrementally, one victory at a time.”  

Report from Compass Direct News