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Who and what defines blasphemy?
Arghea Desafti Hapsari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Religious leaders and experts testified Wednesday on what and who defines blasphemy, in the second hearing of a judicial review request of the 1965 Blasphemy Law.
Rev. Franz Magnis Suseno, a Catholic intellectual and professor, was the only expert witness from the petitioners’ side.
While blasphemy refers to “deviant teachings” in the law, Franz Magnis said it was “relative”.
“It means that one has gone from the right path to another that is not.
“Those who use this word are people who feel they are right.
“One group may find another group’s teaching as deviant, but the latter may also affirm it is the former’s teaching that is deviant,” he said.
Franz argued that the state should not have a say in determining whether a teaching was deviant.
“The state cannot say which is true between, for example, Catholics and the Jehovah Witnesses, even if the Catholics have a hundred more followers than the latter,” he said.
The government’s meddling in religious affairs was among issues raised by petitioners of the judicial review request, which comprise of several NGOs and promoters of pluralism.
In January, they requested the Constitutional Court review several articles that they said discriminate d against minority religious groups.
The articles, they said, regulate the government’s authority to dissolve religious groups whose beliefs and practices were deemed blasphemous by religious authorities.
Under the law, the government also has the authority to charge leaders and followers of suspected heretical groups with an article in the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum penalty of a five-year jail term.
Article 1 of the law stipulates that it is illegal to “intentionally publicize, recommend or organize public support for a different interpretation of a religion practiced in Indonesia or engage in a religious ritual resembling another’s religion”.
It also says that “practicing an interpretation of a religion that deviates from the core of that religion’s teachings” is illegal.
The chairman of the country’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, Hasyim Muzadi, who came as the government’s expert witness, said the law did not violate freedom of religion, as petitioners feared.
“In fact, the minority [among religious communities] will be the ones who will suffer more if the law is revoked,” Hasyim said.
Revoking the law would likely lead to national instability, he said.
“Religious tolerance, which we have been building for a long time, will be disrupted,” he told the court.
Outside, hundreds of people from Muslim mass organizations staged a rally against the request for the judicial review.
Another testimony was from senior journalist Arswendo Atmowiloto, who spent four and a half years in jail after the Monitor tabloid, where he was editor-in-chief, released in 1990 results of a popularity poll that ranked Prophet Muhammad in 11th place, below himself.
“That’s in the past,” he said.
“But what is pertinent is the interpretation of ‘blasphemy’ in Indonesia.
“I did not know then that comparing Muhammad to other humans was blasphemous.”