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By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 4/19/2010
Indonesian court upholds blasphemy law
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court on Monday rejected a petition by moderate Muslims, minorities and rights groups against a 1965 blasphemy law, in a ruling seen as a test of the country’s pluralism.
The court ruled that the law was imperfect but did not contravene the constitution of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
“The application has been rejected entirely as the reasons given by the applicants… have no legal basis and are completely unfounded,” chief judge Mahfud MD told the court.
“It’s not contrary to the basic articles in the constitution but it needs to be made clearer.”
The law makes it illegal to “publicise, recommend or organise public support” for any religion other than or different to the orthodox versions of six sanctioned faiths: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism.
It was used in 2008 to force followers of the Islamic Ahmadiyah sect to go underground and is regularly cited by minority groups as a source of discrimination and intimidation.
Rights groups and civil society organisations that value the country’s secular traditions say it forces people to adhere to government-sanctioned faiths and limits religious freedom.
About 500 police were deployed around the court due to concerns about violence by Islamist extremists should the judges rule in favour of the petition.
Militants from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a vigilante group, had jeered witnesses for the petitioners during the hearings and clashed with their lawyers on the last day, leading to complaints of intimidation.
One of the witnesses, US legal expert Professor Cole Durham, told the court by videolink that “except in most repressive regimes, apostasy and heresy fall under religious, not civil, jurisdiction”.
Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, Setara Institute chairman Hendardi told AFP the court’s decision was disappointing but expected.
“The existence of this law will continue to snatch away the rights of the people to embrace any religion they believe in and to practise it freely,” he said.
FPI secretary-general Sobri Lubis applauded the court’s decision and said the law was needed to maintain religious harmony in the vast archipelago of 234 million people, 90 percent of whom are Muslims.
“We’re very happy with the verdict. This shows the commitment from the government and the religious groups to maintain the religious purity of the recognised faiths in Indonesia including Islam,” he said.
“This will bring peace of mind to the people.”
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar publicly opposed the petition.
Ali warned that the law was needed to maintain social harmony and prevent an explosion of “new religions”.