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Indonesia cracks down on 'deviant sect' Gafatar after village burned down by mob

Kalimantan, Indonesia: A so-called "deviant sect" living in a remote farming community are besieged by a mob who burn their settlement to the ground. Hundreds of suspected members are taken to transit centres. The government deploys warships to transport them back to their home villages, where they will be "re-educated" by religious leaders.

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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.

It may sound like a B-movie script but these extraordinary scenes have played out over the past week in Indonesia, in a country still jumpy after the Jakarta terror attacks.

A little-known religious minority group called the Fajar Nusantara Movement, or Gafatar, recently came to public attention when a doctor and her six-month-old son disappeared from Yogyakarta in December. She was found two weeks later, living in a Gafatar community in West Kalimantan that had been established four months ago.

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

Gafatar was disbanded in August 2015.  The Indonesian government suspected it of being affiliated with "deviant teachings", which are understood to be a combination of Islamic, Christian and Jewish beliefs. The Indonesian state ideology, Pancasila, only recognises six official faiths - Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Hinduism.

On January 19, more than 1000 Gafatar members were evacuated in police trucks after a rampaging mob attacked their settlement in Monton Panjang in the coastal West Kalimantan regency of Mempawah.

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Video footage shows a baying crowd hacking at wooden houses before torching the settlement. Clothes and other household items are strewn in the dirt.

"The mass[es] told us to leave, so we did, with just the clothes on my body," Supriyadi, a 56-year-old father of four told Fairfax Media. "Why are they so vicious to us, what exactly did we do wrong? We used to be members of Gafatar, sure, but that was disbanded months ago. Even so, Gafatar was not a religious organisation."

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

Mr Supriyadi said he came to Monton Panjang from his home in Surabaya two months ago in order to farm. "We grow string beans and water spinach. We never stopped communicating with our family, they knew where we were. We practice the Koran just like other Muslims, we pray five times a day. We just finished building our mushola [Islamic prayer room]."

The evacuees will be returned to their home towns in Indonesian Navy warships.

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

"We will convince them that they can lead normal lives. Of course this won't be easy, because they already have misguided thinking and principles. But we have to fix this," the co-ordinating human development and culture ministry's acting secretary-general, Agus Sartono, was reported as saying in the Jakarta Post.

Indonesia's top Islamic clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), is expected to issue a fatwa in February on whether Gafatar is a heretical movement. They suspect it is a new form of al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah [Islamic Leadership], which the MUI has already declared heretical. Qiyadah's founder, Ahmad Moshaddeq, was jailed for four years for blasphemy in 2008 after he declared himself a prophet.

Former Gafatar members Supriyadi, right, his wife Nurul, their youngest daughter Dewi Suci and their son Waliandi.
Former Gafatar members Supriyadi, right, his wife Nurul, their youngest daughter Dewi Suci and their son Waliandi.  Photo: Amilia Rosa

The head of MUI in Yogyakarta, Thoha Abdurrahman, told Fairfax Media it could take "months, years even" to re-educate the former Gafatar members.

"The ex-Gafatar members may claim that they are practising Islam just like everybody else, five times a day praying, reading from the Koran," he said. "But we know for sure they believe in a fake prophet. That's a deviation. The last prophet was Muhammad. That's what we will guide them back to."

The members of the Gafatar sect, seen here at a temporary evacuation camp, insist they are observant Muslims.
The members of the Gafatar sect, seen here at a temporary evacuation camp, insist they are observant Muslims. Photo: Amilia Rosa

While there is no proof to link Gafatar with acts of terrorism, many Indonesians are suspicious.

"Although it is too early to address Gafatar's links to terrorism, the group's recent recruitment influx is worrying, particularly amid the growing involvement of local radical groups with the Islamic State movement in Syria," a Jakarta-based security consultancy warned its expat clients last week.

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

But Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said the government and media should not mislead the public by calling Gafatar a radical Muslim group.

"They are exclusive, but they are not advocating violence," he told Fairfax Media. "They want to live by themselves, they want to have their own community like the Amish."

Mr Harsono said the last week's events represent one of the biggest religious minority crackdowns in Indonesia in recent years. "This is religious persecution. It is disturbing. Why should they be re-educated in Islam?"

Rasidi, a community head in Monton Panjang, told Fairfax Media it was not the local villagers who had asked the Gafatar people to leave or burned their camp down.

"But we all support that they go back to wherever they are from," he said. "They are not part of our community."

Villagers selling supplies were not allowed past the gates of the camp, Mr Rasidi said. "What were they hiding? The recent stories were quite disturbing. Because they do not believe the same thing as us . . . It's best they return home. We felt for the children. But we can't have them here."

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