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February 23, 2010
Court Chief Refuses Blasphemy Law Petition From Muslim Schools, Leaders
Constitutional Court chief Mahfud MD on Tuesday refused to accept a petition against annulling a blasphemy law because the petition’s organizers — several Islamic boarding schools and a forum of Muslim leaders from Madura — had not followed proper procedures.
“They arrived as a delegation,” Mahfud said. “I received them and spoke with them. However, such aspirations must be conveyed during court proceedings, inside a courtroom, and not directly to a judge,” he said.
The 1965 Law on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religion is currently the subject of a judicial review after it was challenged by the late President Abdurrahman Wahid last year on the grounds it was being misused to intimidate minority religions.
Mahfud told representatives of the schools and the Muslim leaders that their aspirations must be conveyed via organizations legally involved in the review.
“Please hand over your thoughts and aspirations to organizations involved in the case. If you are in favor of the law, hand it over to the government or official groups that are in favor of the law,” Mahfud said.
He also said the court would never invite expert witnesses to give testimony in regard to the review.
“We do not invite. It is requested by applicants and we oblige. If expert witnesses from Mecca are presented, we will accept them. Even if expert witnesses from hell are presented, we cannot refuse,” he said.
The review applicants have requested that the court hear testimony from W Cole Durham Jr, a human rights and religious freedom advocate from Brigham Young University in the United States, Mahfud said.
He said the petition organizers had argued the law should not be annulled because matters of religious blasphemy would fail to be legally regulated.
“The public would then resort to using their own version of the law [street justice], which would be chaotic. Actually, this opinion has been presented in previous hearings,” Mahfud said.
The judicial review was filed by several people and organizations, including Wahid.
According to Choirul Anam, a lawyer representing the applicants, the law is unconstitutional because it only recognizes six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
The law bans people from publicly espousing other religious views or following non-mainstream interpretations of one of the state-sanctioned religions, he said.
The Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace recently expressed concern over the use of the law to justify violent acts against minority groups that interpret religious tenets differently, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority sect.
Mahfud said the petition organizers had also asked him to hold a theological meeting to discuss the law.
“We are not theologians. The conclusions taken in court are about law and will be based on legal conclusions, not theological ones,” he said. “We hold on to the truth, based on the law.”