Rights Groups Blast Indonesia Over Blasphemy Law
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.Filed under: Headlines