Elisabeth Oktofani & Chrestella Tan
Rights activists expressed outrage on Thursday over the light jail terms sought for suspects in the deadly attack on Ahmadiyah followers in Banten in February, saying such leniency would not deter future violence.
“There is a lack of seriousness from law-enforcement officials in handling sectarian clashes, and this could pose a danger to national unity,” said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy.
His remarks came shortly after prosecutors at the Serang District Court in Banten recommended sentences of between five and seven months for 12 defendants accused of having a role in the Feb. 6 attack in Cikeusik subdistrict. Three followers of Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect, were killed in the attack and five more were seriously injured.
“The seven-month demand is really weak,” Bonar said. “This was because the prosecutors saw the case as a spontaneous incident instead of a systematic attack.
“More than that, pressure from outside groups during the trial was also a factor in the weak sentencing demand. The state failed to provide adequate protection for prosecutors and judges during the trial.”
He was referring to the defendants’ vocal supporters who have crowded the courtroom throughout the trial.
Bonar said trials involving sectarian clashes needed the same high level of security provided for terrorism cases.
The prosecution was also criticized by activists for failing to charge the defendants with incitement of hatred, which carries a heavier maximum punishment.
“The prosecutors didn’t prepare the sentencing demand based on the evidence and the magnitude of the crime,” said Haris Azhar, the executive director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).
“They should have seen this as a very serious case because [the attack] occurred because of hatred spread by certain groups of people,” he said.
“It is clear to see that there is a lack of courage and ability on the part of the prosecutors to bring the hatred issue to trial, while [inciting hatred] is a very serious and important issue.”
The defendants have been charged with crimes ranging from provoking violence to assault. Still, the lesser of the charges, provocation, allows punishment of up to six years in jail.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have said the sentencing recommendation was light because the group of 25 Ahmadis involved in the incident was believed to have played a part in provoking the attack.
Prosecutors said the evidence showed members of the banned sect not only provoked the riot, but also filmed it and distributed the videos.
Sentences of seven months were sought for 10 defendants, while sentences of five and six months were sought for two others during the marathon hearings in Serang, the capital of Banten.