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February 17, 2010
FPI Hard-Liners Heckle Scholar Over Religion Law
An Islamic scholar and lecturer from Jakarta’s Paramadina University was jeered by members of a hard-line Islamic group at the Constitutional Court on Wednesday when he dared to draw a comparison between the Prophet Muhammad and the leader of a sect who claimed to be the bride of the Archangel Gabriel.
Luthfi Assyaukanie, who is also cofounder of the Jakarta-based Liberal Islam Network, told the court, which is reviewing the controversial blasphemy law, that the Prophet had initially been persecuted when he first started preaching his faith.
He then compared this to the treatment of Lia Aminuddin, the leader of the Kingdom of Eden sect who was jailed last year for blasphemy. “Some people think she is crazy and even persecute her, just like the Prophet Muhammad in the beginning,” Luthfi said.
His statement immediately provoked vocal protest and abuse from members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who had filled up more than half of the courtroom.
The court hearing comes during the fifth phase of the judicial review into the 1965 Law on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religion. Dating back to the last years of President Sukarno, the law was challenged by the late President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid last year for being misused to intimidate minority religions.
Undeterred by the jeers, Luthfi said the state should never side with a particular religion or criminalize worshipers who held different beliefs.
“What if the majority of the country’s population followed Ahmadiyah?” he asked, once again inviting shouts of anger from the crowd. He was referring to the controversial minority Islamic sect that for years has suffered from discrimination and had their mosques burned down by hard-line Islamic groups.
“I’m sure that both Sunni and Shia followers each believe that they are the most correct and true,” Luthfi added, referring to the two main branches of Islam.
“The problem with our Constitution is that it allows the religious majority power to do anything in the name of defending their religious rights. We have seen, during violent attacks, it’s usually started by the majority who think they have the right to do it.”
Toward the end of Luthfi’s testimony, presiding judge Mahfud MD had to reprimand the court spectators for their continuous shouting.
Ifdhal Kasim, chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), who also appeared as a witness at the hearing, said the state needed to limit itself from interfering in religious matters.
“The right to be religious and to practice one’s religion is a Constitutional right,” he said, adding that the government should draw the line only when it came to four issues: public safety, public order, morality and if human rights are threatened.
The government, Ifdhal said, was obligated to protect the rights of its citizens through the legal system.
“We argue that Article 1 of the 1965 Law crosses the line on the right to religious belief because it prohibits people from having their own interpretations of religion,” he said.
Lutfi Hakim, legal counsel for the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), said Ifdhal’s testimony was unconvincing.
“And furthermore, the four things that you mentioned, were more or less the same with what is written in the judicial review request,” he added.