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Blasphemy Law Review Demanded Amid Strife
Ulma Haryanto | February 19, 2011
The Constitutional Court should now consider the consequences of upholding the 1965 Blasphemy Law, a top human rights watchdog has said, arguing that it should go, based on the recent evidence of the law’s complete failure to protect social harmony.
The Human Rights Working Group pointed out that recent nationwide displays of religious intolerance in the form of attacks and demonstrations since the start of the year alone were enough to once again review whether or not the Blasphemy Law was actually serving its purpose of keeping peace among Indonesians.
Last year, the Constitutional Court rejected a motion to revise or annul the 1965 law, saying the request had “no legal basis.”
The ruling was made by the nine-member panel of judges with one dissenting opinion.
The demand for a judicial review was filed by several human rights organizations, who had argued that the state should not restrict people’s right to freedom of worship.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali had publicly opposed the petitioners at the time, and warned that the law was needed to “maintain social harmony and prevent an explosion of new religions.”
The law was used in 2008 to force followers of the Islamic Ahmadiyah sect to go underground and has regularly been cited by minority groups as a justification for discrimination and intimidation.
“We want to appeal to the consciences of the Constitutional Court judges, who at one time said in their ruling that the law was necessary to keep the peace,” HRWG deputy chairperson Choirul Anam told the Jakarta Globe. “Look what’s happened. Attacks on religious minorities have instead increased, and continue to rise.”
Under the Constitution, six religions are officially recognized and protected by the state — Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism. The 1965 Blasphemy Law makes it illegal to “publicize, recommend or organize public support” for unorthodox versions of those six religions or other faiths.
Almost a year after the court’s ruling, representatives from a number of human rights organizations on Friday invited the public to discuss the impact of the ruling and the future of Indonesia’s struggle to express religious freedom.
Speaking alongside Choirul were Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra, Rumadi from the Wahid Institute, Mansyur Zaini from the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) and Zainal Abidin of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam).
“It’s difficult to have unbiased public officers serving the public for the nation’s interests, and not their own religious beliefs, Choirul said.
“Even the Constitutional Court judges could not remain impartial during the hearing. Some judges referred to Koranic verses and hadiths [words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad] at the time, which should not have been allowed since it was a discourse in the Constitutional Court, not [a recital of] religious scriptures,” Choirul said.
There have been a number of attacks against religious minorities in recent weeks. Most notably the killing of three Ahmadiyah followers in Banten, West Java, and attacks on churches in the Temanggung area of Central Java.
Azyumardi pointed to a recent dialog held between leaders of the Ahmadiyah community with House of Representatives VIII, which oversees religious affairs.
“I could see that a lot of political party members who claim to be secular turned out to be religiously biased,” Azyumardi said, adding that through those sessions alone he could see that not just major bodies like the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) had been infiltrated by hard-liners but also political parties.
Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation director Nurkholis Hidayat told of when he was attacked in March by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), following one of the Constitutional Court hearings.
“We were chased off. They asked us what our religion was. Even though I am a Muslim, they kept on shouting that we were infidels,” he said.
The gloomy outlook however, would not stop the organizations from advocating religious freedom at various levels, Choirul said.
“The next step will be to push the government and the legislative to draft a law on religious freedom, not religious harmony as has been discussed until now,” he said.