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Court justices accused of ‘distorting’ testimonies
Arghea Desafti Hapsari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The Constitutional Court has again become the target of criticism following its ruling on the controversial Blasphemy Law, with plaintiffs accusing the judges of distorting the opinions of expert witnesses.
Just weeks after giving the nod to the divisive pornography law in late March, the Court on Monday ruled to uphold the 45-year-old law on religious blasphemy. Only one judge, Maria Farida Indrati, had a dissenting opinion.
But this held no sway in the final outcome as the Court turned down a judicial review request by human rights groups and high-profile figures such as late former president Abdurrahman Wahid and progressive Muslim scholar Siti Musdah Mulia.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Uli Parulian Sihombing, on Tuesday criticized the way judges had claimed that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) had recommended keeping the law when in fact the latter had requested revisions to be made to it.
The panel of judges in its argument said that of the 24 parties whose testimonies were heard, two — Komnas HAM and the Indonesia Confucianism High Assembly (Matakin) — had said that the contested articles in the law were still needed and should not be revoked before a new and more comprehensive regulation was enacted.
Chief justice Mahfud MD did not return numerous calls from The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Komnas HAM chairman Ifdhal Kasim, who testified in February, said several articles in the law needed to be revised. He argued that the law “rests on the old Constitution, which opposes the new [amended] Constitution”.
“That’s why, based on the new Constitution, there needs to be a review [of laws] produced by former administrations,” he said.
The law stipulates criminal penalties for those who intentionally publicize, recommend or organize public support for a different interpretation of the six officially recognized religions.
Opponents say the law has been used to persecute members of religious minorities and of traditional beliefs, including when members of the Ahmadiyah sect were forced to take refuge after enduring violent attacks against them. The Court, however, said the law was needed to maintain public order.
On Tuesday, Uli also said that judges had not made an objective decision based on facts and evidence.
Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Amidhan, on the other hand, expressed his support for the Court ruling. He said that the law was needed to maintain harmony among religions. “Without the law, there would be chaos. I fear people would take the law into their own hands,” he added.
Amidhan also said that the law could be revoked only if Indonesians were “wiser”. “But the people are not as wise as in the US, where religion is a personal matter,” he told the Post.
Masdar Farid Mas’udi from Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim organization, voiced a different opinion, despite the organization’s official position supporting the court’s ruling.
He said that by keeping the law, the numerous Islamic preachers who criticized other religions and therefore broke the law “would now have to be prepared to be arrested and face criminal charges”.
“They are the ones who supported this law and they cannot be above it,” he said.