Recommend UsEmail this PageeGazetteAlislam.org
Court to stage debate on religious freedom
Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The Constitutional Court will see one of its longest hearings as it becomes a forum for clerics, activists, pundits and artists to debate whether the country should revoke a 45-year-old blasphemy law to uphold freedom of religion.
The court opened Thursday the first hearing of a judicial review filed by a number of human rights groups against the 1965 Blasphemy Law, which they said was adverse to human rights principles and irrelevant to a democratic Indonesia.
The review has been strongly opposed by the government and major Muslim organizations as well as hardline groups including the Islam Defender’s Front (FPI), whose members staged a rally outside the court Thursday.
The court is set to present 31 experts, including sociologist Imam Prasodjo, poet Emha Ainun Nadjib, novelist Andrea Hirata and filmmaker Garin Nugroho, to share their opinions on the issue.
“The examination will be extensive,” court chief Mahfud M.D said. “We usually hold a hearing every fourteen days, but in this case, we will hold it weekly.” The examination will take at least four months.
The petitioners will present experts including Ahmad Syafii Maarif, Franz Magnis-Suseno, Luthfi Assyaukanie and Cole Durham, professor of law from the US, who will speak at the court via a teleconference.
Syafii will be speaking against his colleagues in Muhammadiyah, which, like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), officially expressed its opposition to the judicial review. Ten Islamic organizations, including Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, will also be given a say in court.
The government and the House of Representatives are against the judicial review.
In Thursday’s hearing, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali demanded the court reject the activists’ request on the grounds that no petitioners had their constitutional rights denied because of the law.
“We ask the court to decide if the judicial review request is unacceptable,” the minister said Suryadharma also said the law had for decades served to maintain harmony in religiously diverse Indonesia. “Annulling the law will create conflict, instability and disharmony. It is urgently needed to endorse religious tolerance.”
Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar argued that religious freedom did not mean people could practice their beliefs regardless of existing laws.
Chairuman Harahap, representing the legislators, concurred with Patrialis, saying the law remained relevant though it was created decades ago. “From a sociological perspective, a law should be in line with the will of the people,” he said.
Uli Parulian Sihombing, a lawyer for petitioners, said they were not asking for absolute freedom, but assurance that religious interpretation on certain religious teachings were not subject to prosecution by the state. Uli referred to the case of Jamaah Ahmadiyah, an Islamic sect that has been declared heretical and banned by the government.
In 2008, a pro-Ahmadiyah group called the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion, was attacked by FPI and Hizbut Tahrir members, who strongly supported the government’s move to ban Ahmadiyah.