World

Banned Indonesian group Gafatar says its aim is food security, not separatism

Jakarta: The former leader of a group labelled a "deviant sect" in Indonesia claims its sole priority was to create food security to help Indonesia survive a global food crisis.

More News Videos

Indonesia cracks down on 'deviant sect' Gafatar

The Gafatar religious minority group in Indonesia are to be 're-educated' after their settlement in West Kalimantan was burned down by a mob.

Gafatar, also known as the Fajar Nusantara Movement, was disbanded in August 2015, after the government, suspicious that it mixed beliefs from several faiths, refused to register it as an organisation.

But it resurfaced in the news following the disappearance of multiple people, including medical doctor Rica Tri Handayani and her son, many of whom were found living on a remote farming settlement in West Kalimantan.

The charred remains of the Gafatar settlement burned down by a local mob.
The charred remains of the Gafatar settlement burned down by a local mob.  Photo: Amilia Rosa

In an interview with Fairfax Media, ex-Gafatar leader Mahful Tumanurung said no one had been forced to move to Mempawah regency in West Kalimantan.

"After we disbanded we committed to one thing: we will continue to work for this country to provide food security," Mr Mahful said. "There was no instruction for an exodus, everybody decided on their own to go.

Advertisement

"As we foresee it, a food crisis will happen all over the world, including Indonesia. Indonesia has the potential to survive it, with its vast oceans and rich natural resources. But if no one cares about the food problems, who will work on it?"

The Gafatar settlement in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo was torched by a rampaging mob last week and its members are now being transferred to their home towns, where they will be "re-educated" by religious leaders.

Former members of the Gafatar sect at a temporary evacuation camp in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, on Monday.
Former members of the Gafatar sect at a temporary evacuation camp in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, on Monday. Photo: Amilia Rosa

Gafatar has been accused by some of trying to establish a separate state known as NKSA or Negara Karunia Tuhan Semesta Alam (State gifted from the Lord of the Universe), which could amount to treason.

However Mr Mahful denied this. "There is not the smallest intention of Gafatar friends to commit treason against the government or to stage a power coup," he said. "We love this country too much, this is where we were born."

"We love this country": Gafatar leader Mahful Tumanurung.
"We love this country": Gafatar leader Mahful Tumanurung. Photo: Amilia Rosa

Yogyakarta police spokesperson Anny Pujiastuti said police had received 36 missing persons reports that were linked to Gafatar since last December. Two people, including an ex-Gafatar member, have been named as suspects over the kidnapping of Dr Rica, whose husband filed a missing person report.

"F, an ex-member of Gafatar, like Dr Rica was a few years ago promised a new job in Kalimantan, but there was no new job," Mrs Anny said.

The razed Gafatar camp at Mempawah regency, West Kalimantan.
The razed Gafatar camp at Mempawah regency, West Kalimantan.  Photo: Amilia Rosa

"We returned her back to her husband and waited until she was stable enough. She has now given her statement and based on it we have determined that F and E are suspects."

Abdul, from Semarang in Central Java, said his son, who has a masters degree in planning, had gone missing last November.

He said when his wife had warned their son that the teachings of Gafatar were wrong, he had cut all contact.

"We looked for him everywhere, we were so confused, frantically looking for him," Abdul said. Police finally located him in Pontianak in West Kalimantan.

"He was asked to lay out a city, or a country, that's why they kept him hidden in the city. I believe it's part of Gafatar's plan to create their own country. Isn't that treason?"

He said his son was back home but "still adjusting".

Abdul called on the government to be more vigilant in assisting ex-Gafatar members return to "normal" psychologically, not just through religious leaders but also with the help of therapists.

The head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in Yogyakarta, Thoha Abdurrahman, said it was important to distinguish between the victims of Gafatar and those who still consider their spiritual leader to be Ahmad Moshaddeq.

Ahmad was jailed for four years for blasphemy in 2008 after he declared himself a prophet following 40 days of meditation on a mountain in West Java.

"It's what they believe in that makes them a deviant," Mr Thoha said. "The rest are victims, lured with [offers of] food security and land. Then they will be brainwashed to be a true believer. We have to identify the victims and the believers carefully and separate them."

Mr Thoha said it was important the former Gafatar members were embraced by their communities when they returned to their home towns and not ostracised. "Everybody makes mistakes, we can't cast them off just because they did wrong," he said.

He said the MUI, Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body, did not consider Gafatar to be terrorists: "Radical, yes, but not physically radical."