Dessy Sagita, Amir Tejo& Markus Junianto Sihaloho
Two people were killed and five were injured in an attack on a group of Shia students and teachers in Sampang, East Java, on Sunday.
Around 30 Shiites, most of them children, were traveling from Nangkernang village on the island of Madura, bound for Bangil in East Java.
Shortly into their trip, they were stopped by about 500 men from mainstream Muslim groups, preventing them from continuing, said Umi Kulsum, who was at the scene.
“Two people died, Hamama and Tohir,” she said. “Five were wounded as they were trying to protect the women and children. I was petrified.
“When the incident happened, there weren’t any police officers. The mob had swords and machetes, and they attacked all of the adult males who were trying to protect the women and children.”
Among the group were five of Umi’s children, who were taken away from her.
The children in the group studied at a Shia boarding school in Bangil and had returned to Sampang, their hometown, to celebrate Idul Fitri with their families.
The mob then torched four homes belonging to the Shiite community, including one belonging to Umi and her husband, Shia cleric Tajul Muluk.
The Shia community in Sampang has been the target of violent attacks and incidents of intimidation in the past.
On Dec. 29, Shiites in Nangkernang was attacked by hard-line Muslim groups, who set fire to hundreds of homes and a Shia Islamic school, displacing 500 Shiites from their village.
Police instead charged Tajul with blasphemy, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs office in Sampang said it would “supervise” hundreds of Shia to learn Sunni Islam.
Last month, a district court in East Java sentenced the Shia cleric to two years in prison for blasphemy after reportedly telling students that the Koran was not the original holy text for Muslims, an allegation Tajul’s legal team repeatedly denied.
According to Tajul’s lawyers, the prosecutors in the case portrayed the Shiite faith as subservient to the Sunni majority, helping to raise the religious tensions during the proceedings.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to drop all charges against Tajul and demanded that it amend or repeal its blasphemy law.
With the ongoing tension and intimidation against the group, Umi said she had requested police come to ensure a safe passage for the convoy of children, but police never came. Hours after the incident, eight police officers arrived at the scene.
East Java Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Hilman Thayib said police deployed 300 officers from precincts across Madura to Nangkernang, as well as one company from the East Java Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) unit to prevent violence.
Umi identified the attackers as followers of Roisul Hukama, a local Nahdlatul Ulama leader who has been fanning hatred toward the local Shia community.
“How many lives must fall until police and the government intervene?” Umi asked.
“Our children have stopped going to school for five months. My husband is in jail, and my whole life is under terror.”
House of Representatives member Eva Kusuma Sundari, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), condemned the attack.
“There must not be anymore victims,” she said. “Police must move quickly and safeguard the security and safety of the people attacked.”
Of the 220 million Muslims in the country, there are only around one million Shiites, according to estimates. Most of the rest practice some form of Sunni Islam.
The Freedom of Religion and Faith Advocacy Working Group (AKBB) said that Sunnis and Shiites follow different interpretations of Islam that have been accepted by Muslim groups around the globe since the beginning of the religion in the eighth century.
Intimidation toward and attacks on Shiites have also been recorded in Pasuruan and Bangil, both in East Java.