Rights Groups Blast Indonesia Over Blasphemy Law

JAKARTA
The Bali Times

Human rights groups pilloried the nation’s Constitutional Court Tuesday after it upheld a 1965 blasphemy law, ruling in favour of orthodox religions over basic freedoms.

The court on Monday rejected a petition by moderate Muslims, religious minorities, democracy advocates and rights groups against the law, in a case seen as a major test of the mainly Muslim country’s pluralism.

By a margin of eight to one, the judges ruled that the law was imperfect but did not contravene the constitution of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, which guarantees freedom of belief.

The law carries a maximum punishment of five years for beliefs that deviate from the orthodox versions of six sanctioned faiths: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a non-partisan body that advises the US government, said the ruling may embolden religious extremists and foster sectarian strife.

“The constitutional court’s decision may give extremists cover to enforce a version of religious conformity not shared by the majority of Indonesians,” commission chairman Leonard Leo said.

“Hopefully, the Indonesian government will recognise that overturning the blasphemy decree advances its fight against terrorism and extremism, and enhances its reputation for religious tolerance and pluralism.”

The law 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.

Islamic extremists packed the court throughout the hearings, heckled witnesses for the petitioners and allegedly assaulted their lawyers on the last day. They greeted the ruling with shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater).

About 500 police were deployed around the court due to concerns that a ruling against the law would trigger violence by militants from the Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group.

US-based Human Rights Watch said the court “dealt a severe blow to religious freedom” in the world’s third-largest democracy, which President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit in June.

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2 Responses to “Rights Groups Blast Indonesia Over Blasphemy Law”

  1. Edward X Says:

    The Indonesian court decision upholding the blasphemy law was itself in conflict with the Quran verse 2:256, which states: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” Some Moslem rulers in many lands and times disregarded verse 2:56, but it is still in the Book. If the Indonesian law applied in the Middle East 2000 years ago, Christianity and Islam would not have developed from their Jewish roots. The urge to have the government protect Islam is strange in a country that is 90% Moslem. They have little to fear. Little cults that spin-off from Islam may be annoying, but they are not Islam. They are nothing to worry about.

  2. Rashid Says:

    Ed X is correct and moreover Islam by its own name derived from the root that in addition to the traditionally used meaning of “Peace” also means ‘safety and security’. Having worked extensively in Indonesia, I must say that in my experience, this ruling does not represent the majority of Indonesians whose beliefs and character are overwhelmingly tolerant and inclusive. Bigotry, prejudice and bias based on purposeful misinformation and politicization of religion in oder to control the masses, fomented by extremists and their distorted views are unacceptable whether in Indonesia or as we see more and more in the USA. We should take a lesson from what is happening in Indonesia where a culture of traditional tolerance is being undermined by a few misguided individuals/groups in the name of ‘religion’ or ‘truth’.

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