The Sunni majority in Sampang, Madura, East Java, had no problem welcoming the return of ostracized Shia community members; the main issue that bars them from returning to their homes is the local governmentâ€™s intransigence, a rights group has said.
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said the local government had disseminated false information about members of the Sunni and Shia communities being in conflict.
â€œWe can say that the situation in their hamlet is very good. Locals [Sunni] visited the [Shia] refugees at the sports stadium. It seems that there is no problem between them, which certainly contradicts the governmentâ€™s claim that conditions are not conducive,â€ Kontras Surabaya member Fathul Khoir said in a press conference in Jakarta on Monday.
Fathul also said that clashes between the two communities were not motivated by faith, but instead sprang from competition between local elites.
Based on an investigation by Kontras, the conflict resulted from a competition between local figures, with some local Sunni leaders feeling intimidated by the preaching of Shiite cleric Tajul Muluk.
â€œTajul told locals to go to state elementary schools because they offered free tuition. Some clerics were annoyed because they run Islamic primary schools that receive the governmentâ€™s school operational assistance [BOS] funding,â€ Fathul explained.
Members of the Shia community sought refuge at the Sampang sports complex following an incident on Aug. 12, 2012, when more than 200 people stormed a Shia settlement in Nangkernang hamlet, Sampang. Two people were killed during the violence.
The conflict first began on Dec. 29, 2011, when mobs set fire to a Shia boarding school in the community.
Members of the Shia community opposed the governmentâ€™s plan to relocate them to areas outside
The Sampang administration claimed that its plan to evict the local Shiites was in deference to the demands of the majority Sunni community.
Also on Monday, a coalition of rights groups rejected the governmentâ€™s plan to relocate members of the Shia community.
The coalition, which includes Kontras, the Universalia Legal Aid Institute (LBH Universalia), Elsam and the Indigenous Peoplesâ€™ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), said that if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono allowed the relocation to take place, he would be violating the Constitution.
â€œEvery citizen is entitled to legal protection for their physical safety and for their property,â€ the coalition said in a statement.
To drive the point home, the coalition recently launched a campaign that has seen members of the Sampang Shia community riding bikes from Surabaya to Jakarta.
The delegation arrived in Jakarta on Sunday and said they hoped to meet Yudhoyono.
Rosyid, a member of the campaigning cyclists, urged the President to give safe passage to their fellow Shiites to return home.
â€œWhen I went back to the hamlet, some security guards apprehended me and ordered me to go back to the Sampang sports complex,â€ he said.