After several of its members disappeared the Fajar Nusantara Movement – or Gafatar – has continued to be dogged by controversy.
The Indonesian government has described the group as a “deviant sect,” while Islamic groups have threatened to sue.
But Gafatar denies the rumors swirling around the group, saying they just want to farm in peace on their remote property in Kalimantan...
From the capital, Jakarta, Kate Lancaster investigates.
After their homes were stoned and burnt to the ground earlier this week, Gafatar members in Kalimantan were forced to flee.
Critics say the group follows a cocktail of religions, fusing elements of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
It’s the reason why Gafatar has been labeled a “deviant sect”, and why in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the group is viewed with deep suspicion.
But Gafatar member Yanuar says the group only follows Pancasila – Indonesia’s state ideology.
“Gafatar was established on August 14, 2009. Its vision and mission were good, to implement the order of life in the community, nation and the welfare state, based on Pancasila,” he explains, “As the noble values of Pancasila have been in decline, I want to uphold them, to encourage the nation to be a peaceful and prosperous state.”
The Home Ministry first disbanded Gafatar in 2012.
But over recent months thousands of members have moved to Gafatar’s 13.5 hectare property in Mempawah – in a remote part of West Kalimantan.
Dr. Monica, who asked to use her first name only, is a doctor who lives close by the Gafatar property.
Speaking via telephone via Kalimantan, she told me how the locals viewed the group when they first arrived in August last year.
“Some of them thought this group was quite exclusive. They have their own group and they don’t send their kids to school. It’s just they’re, in the Gafatar, being exclusive,” says Dr. Monica, “So that community was suspicious of them… but they still lived peacefully with each other and… no conflict.”
Gafatar member Yanuar says that before the tension erupted the group spent their days farming – planting rice, water spinach and flowers.
But they could feel the tension with the local community growing. Locals accused the group of isolating themselves, and not going to the mosque to pray.
That escalated further when authorities started to question whether Gafatar had permission to be there in the first place.
Yanuar says that at first they asked permission from the local authorities but the permission was in spoken, not written form.
“When the tension began, we strived to provide our records about our existence from the beginning. But it seemed that was not important anymore, or not important to them. It was too late,” he says.
Gafatar drew national attention in December last year when a missing mother and her child turned up at the group’s Kalimantan property two weeks later. Other disappearances have since followed.
Then last week more than 1,000 Gafatar members were relocated from their homes by police, and taken to the capital of West Kalimantan.
Dr. Monica explains.
“They gave them an ultimatum, ‘You have to leave this village in 48 hours,’” she explains, “So they had to pack their things and then they left. Actually, the government facilitated them, and then they put them in the barracks. I think there were about 400, almost 400 people in the barracks.”
As the Gafatar members were leaving, their village was ransacked, stoned and burned by a mob of angry residents.
Dr. Monica says the members were scared but had little choice but to cooperate.
“They were depressed, they were clearly depressed about this, but they didn’t fight back,” she says, “They didn’t fight back [against] the government, but they were really depressed, and they were threatened and they were afraid as well. Actually, they asked if there was a possibility to get asylum.”
Following the evacuation three Indonesian naval vessels were dispatched to transport the Gafatar members back to their homes across Indonesia.
But Dr. Monica says some of the members are too afraid to return home.
“Because they know that in their own original areas, they are not accepted as well, so it’s dangerous for them to go back to their own area,” says Dr. Monica, “their original area.”
By law in Indonesia, each citizen must subscribe to one of the six official religions.
But you can’t mix and match, which is why people have reacted so strongly against Gafatar.
Yet, regardless of what they believe, activists like Rafendi Djamin, the director of Indonesia’s Human Rights Working Group, says their fundamental rights have been violated.
And that Indonesia needs to respect religious freedom.
“That is the problem in our society,” he says, “Once you are caught as a deviant, then it is as if you have a legitimacy to crush them, to destroy them. That is one thing that Indonesia has to learn. That is not the correct way of living in a country where we embrace democracy and human rights.”
Gafatar members now face an uncertain future.
Since being relocated they are being compelled to undergo what the government calls ‘religious re-education’.