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Shia clerics call on House to end Sampang persecution

Members of the country’s Shia community met with leaders of the House of Representatives on Tuesday to air their grievances over the plight of Shiites in Sampang, East Java, who have been in limbo for nearly a year after being evicted by the majority Sunni community there.

While members of the Shia community staged a peaceful rally in front of the House compound on Tuesday, 30 Shiite clerics held a meeting with House Speaker Marzuki Alie and lawmakers from House Commission III overseeing law and human rights, and Commission VIII overseeing religion, to persuade the lawmakers to throw their weight behind a move to oppose the government’s plan for relocating the Shiites to areas outside Sampang.

“There have been obvious, systematic efforts to evict Shiites [from Sampang]. However, we would like to emphasize that we all are against the planned relocation for whatever reason because we think it is unconstitutional and inhumane,” said Umar Shihab from the Shia organization Ahlul Bait Indonesia.

Umar said this was not the first time they had made a plea to government officials and politicians.

“We earlier discussed the issue with several lawmakers from Commission III and from Commission VIII but we got no response. Therefore, we came here [again] to beg for your support because we still believe that you, the lawmakers, will uphold the law,” he added.

Abdullah Beikh from the Madura Shia community called on lawmakers to take immediate action to support the Shia community, especially now that the local government in Sampang had made a move to evict them from the area.

The Sampang administration claimed that its plan to evict the local Shiites was to bow to the demands from the majority Sunni community.

Abdullah said he spoke with members of the local Sunni majority and none supported the eviction.

“These people actually opposed the violence brought on us,” he said.

He also claimed the perpetrators of the violence against Shiites were mostly outsiders who were transported to Sampang to create unrest.

The first attack against the Shia community occurred in late December 2011, when a group of people claiming to represent the Sunni majority torched a Shia Islamic boarding school in Karang Gayam village.

Around 300 Shiites were forced to seek refuge at an indoor tennis court, which was located some 20 kilometers from their home village.

The government’s inaction toward the first attack apparently encouraged another attack in August 2012, when a mob of around 1,000 Sunni Muslims razed the predominantly Shia villages Blu’uran and Karang Gayam.

The attack claimed two lives, destroyed 37 homes and forced around 270 Shiites to take refuge in a local sports stadium until today.

The refugees have been struggling to survive since early this month as the local administration has stopped supplies of food and clean water, citing budget constraints.

Marzuki said the House would oppose the relocation plan. “Relocating them now will only trigger discrimination against other religious minorities in the future. Besides, there is also no guarantee that the Shiites will live peacefully in the new place,” he said.

Marzuki said the House planned to summon East Java Governor Soekarwo and Sampang Regent Fannan Hasib later this month to discuss the eviction plan.

Lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said the Sampang government and central government should resort to the 2012 law on the management of social conflicts, which mandates reconciliation for any social conflicts.

“We must remember that the law certainly precludes relocation,” Eva said.

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