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April 19, 2010
House Roots for Upholding Blasphemy Law as it Stands
Legislators overseeing religious affairs say they expect the Constitutional Court today to issue the “correct” verdict in regard to the 1965 Blasphemy Law — to dismiss the request for its review and put a stop to sensitive debate that has increased tensions between religious hard-liners and rights activists.
Abdul Kadir Karding, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Commission VIII, expressed his concern on Sunday over the possible social impact should the court agree to review or annul the law. Any change to the law, Abdul said, would lead to debate and trigger disharmony between religious groups.
“It would be hugely negative and the benefits minuscule if the law is to be reviewed,” the National Awakening Party (PKB) legislator told the Jakarta Globe.
After at least 12 hearings filled with controversy, the Constitutional Court is expected to rule at 2 p.m. today on a judicial review request filed by human rights groups.
“What if there are religions with only one or two followers conducting rituals, much like rituals in Islam or Christianity, but these people believe in neither Islam or Christianity?” Abdul said. “Of course people will get mad.”
Toward the end of March, members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front assaulted four people in the basement of the Constitutional Court on the last day of arguments in the case. The court’s chief, Mahfud MD, has himself made controversial statements linked to attempts to influence him, made by religious groups petitioning against the law’s annulment.
“As long as the statements are made within the courtroom hearings, we will accept them,” Mahfud previously said.
“Nothing outside is acceptable. If expert witnesses from Mecca are presented, we will accept them [in the courtroom]. Even if expert witnesses from hell are presented, we cannot refuse them.”
The 1965 Blasphemy Law recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. All others are officially banned.
House Commission VIII legislator Hasrul Azwar said on Sunday that the review of the law would “tarnish the sanctity” of the recognized religions. He said he understood that some groups believed the law violated the right to freedom of worship, but said no one should be allowed to defame a religion.
“In the case of the Ahmadiyah [minority sect], they say they are Muslims but that their last prophet is not Muhammad. That’s blasphemy,” the United Development Party (PPP) legislator said.
“Members of the entire House Commission VIII share the same beliefs as I do. [Any sane person] would want this law maintained as it is.”
In 2008, the government used the law to ban the Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect, because its members held that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet of Islam, a claim that contradicts mainstream Muslim beliefs. [*]
Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali has opposed the review of the law, arguing that putting no limits to the establishment of religions would result in people “openly declaring new prophets and angels.”
Ignatius Mulyono, chairman of the House Legislation Body, said legislators should prepare for the court’s outcome.
“If there are some articles annulled, the commission should make the changes required, and along with the government we will discuss it, irrespective of legislators’ own personal beliefs,” he said.
Mahfud on Sunday guaranteed that the court’s decision would be independent, and that the verdict would be based not on religious biases but the study of articles in the Constitution.
“I threw out all the letters from clerics and community groups that weren’t directly addressed to me during a court hearing,” he said.
“The court can only decide based on legal facts in a hearing. Beyond that, nothing else will be taken into consideration.”
Legislator Eva Kusuma Sundari, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), told the Globe that although she was not of the same opinion as her colleagues on Commission VIII, she was pessimistic the court would approve the review.
“The issue is not about justice, but power,” Eva said. “Consequently, once we ratified the law on human rights, we should work on related laws, including the blasphemy law.”
She said it was very unfair that the nation only recognized six religions, when one’s religious belief was a personal matter and people should be allowed to choose their own faith. She said the right to freedom of worship was a basic one that the state should respect.