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Press Release — May 6, 2002

Muslim Militant Leader Arrested in Indonesia: Rights Group Questions Government’s Resolve

(Washington, DC – May 6, 2002) The Washington-DC based human rights organization, International Christian Concern (ICC), applauded the recent arrest of the head of a militant Islamic group in Indonesia. Jafar Umar Thalib, leader of the Laskar Jihad, was arrested in Surabaya on May 4, 2002 and was immediately transferred to the national police headquarters in Jakarta. Accusations against Jafar include provocation of violence against Christians and insulting government leaders. Jafar was detained less than a week after ICC made a worldwide appeal for his arrest and urged Americans to call the Indonesian Embassy and Secretary of State Colin Powell, demanding that Jafar be brought to justice.

While ICC is pleased with the arrest of Mr. Jafar, whose April 26th tabliq akbar (religious speech) in Ambon incited Muslims to attack Christians, killing 12-14 in the village of Soya on April 28th, stronger measures need to be taken to ensure that Jafar is properly punished. Last May Jafar was arrested on similar accusations of inciting violence, but was later released after his supporters protested. In fact, Jafar was never tried or formally charged with anything. He was simply allowed back into society to continue spewing forth venomous hate speech against Christians and moderate Muslims who sought reconciliation.

The Indonesian government seems reluctant to crack down on Jafar and his group for fear of reprisals against themselves. In a recent article, the Jakarta Post announced that the recording of Jafar’s provocative speech obtained by the Indonesian police contains threats against President Megawati. On the other hand, according to the Laskar Jihad web site, Vice President Hamzah Haz will be the opening speaker at the group’s national convention to be held May 13-22 in Jakarta. Inside contacts have told ICC that Jafar has personally met with the Vice President in the past. With Megawati afraid of being overthrown and Hamzah Haz seemingly sympathetic to the cause of the Laskar Jihad, it is unlikely that Jafar’s arrest will be more than a symbolic action meant to appease critics of Indonesia’s weak stance toward Islamic militants.

ICC representative Holly Hursh said, “It is of utmost importance that Jafar Umar Thalib be forced to stand trial and receive a sentence commensurate with the crimes against humanity which he has provoked.” The BBC News reported on May 4, 2002 that the maximum sentence Jafar would likely face is 7 years in prison. “Terror is terror,” Hursh added, “and it doesn’t matter if it is Osama bin Laden or Jafar Umar Thalib; swift punitive action is required or hate and terror will run rampant.”