In a move that many saw as unnecessary, Jakarta Police declared on Thursday Lia Eden and 32 of her followers suspects for defamation of religion a day after members of the cult were forcibly evacuated from their headquarters on Jl. Mahoni in Senen, Central Jakarta.
Another 15 people also evacuated from the house by the police to prevent a clash with local residents on Wednesday were not named suspects because they were just participants in the gathering at the headquarters.
Jakarta Police Insp. Gen. Firman Gani added the police would charge members of the cult, known as Salamullah, under Article 156a of the Criminal Code on religious defamation.
Former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, however, criticized the move saying that the authorities should hold a dialog with the group to straighten things out.
“If they are considered a heretic group then the authorities should hold a dialog to clear things up instead of arresting them,” he said during a discussion on freedom of religion in Jakarta.
Gus Dur said the government should leave religious affairs to civil society as it was not the government’s concern.
He proposed that a new institution with clear-cut jurisdiction be set up to determine if a religious teaching was a heresy or not.
Many of the residents in the neighborhood even acknowledged they did not know, or at least did not care about the presence of the cult headed by Lia, who was previously known as Lia Aminuddin, located at Jl. Mahoni No. 30.
Neighbors only become aware of the group after Lia, who claims to be the Holy Spirit, distributed flyers to her neighbors announcing that the house had become the Kingdom of God or Eden Palace on Dec. 5.
Several other flyers, including a clarification on a report that the cult’s teachings were heresy and an invitation to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the house, were also distributed to houses in the neighborhood several times after that.
“They never bothered or intimidated us before. Sometimes Lia’s followers went outside and we met them. However, they recently became active distributing several flyers to us. We just don’t like the content of the flyers. They should have kept their teachings to themselves,” Firdaus, 40, whose house is only 20 meters from Lia’s place, told The Jakarta Post.
He said that they considered Lia and her followers strange people with a different way of thinking.
Lia’s flyers, however, were responded to by members of the congregation of nearby Meranti Mosque, which also distributed flyers condemning Lia’s teachings as heresy, and asked residents to join a gathering in front of Lia’s house on Dec. 30.
Lia, who this time claimed to be God’s messenger Gabriel, responded with new flyers on Dec. 25, threatening to take the lives of the Meranti Mosque’s committee members if they held the gathering.
The flyers invited residents to gather in front of her house on Wednesday to see what kind of people were there in the house.
“We were just very curious in the beginning. But as more people came, many began to shout and boo at them. I think it would have ended up in violence if the police had not come quickly,” Rahman, 30, another neighbor said.