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The rule of bad law
Zainal Fikri, Kedah
At the worst, the government is likely to agree to use coercive state power to impose the latter groups’ views on Ahmadiyah. The government is preparing a joint decree to outlaw the sect following a recommendation by a government board.
The government officials claim their legal authority to ban and disband Ahmadiyah is based on the law on the prevention of the misuse and disgrace of religion enacted by Sukarno and promulgated by Soeharto in 1965.
The law originally intended to safeguard the revolution and its security. This is one of the bad laws we have from the relic of revolution but still celebrated cheerfully by opponents of tolerance and pluralism. It is bad because it is against the value of pluralism of democracy and the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
It gives the government legitimate power to intervene in the internal affairs of civil associations and faith-based institutions. It is against institutional separation of religious and state authority. It opens the gate for particular religious authorities to interfere in the state authority as the government will consult religious leaders to determine the nature of deviant interpretations of their community.
The government uses the blasphemy law to please the majority and to control freedom of religion. It just ignores the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens to live free from coercion and persecution.
Once a particular religion or sect is being banned and disbanded, its followers will suffer all modes of coercion and persecution such as the use or threat of physical force, or the use or threat of penal sanctions, to compel its believers to recant their religion or belief or to convert.
It is stated that the constitutional basis of the blasphemy law is Article 29 of the Constitution. By the enactment of the law and its implementation, Article 29 on the freedom of worship has been conceptually and practically interpreted as “you are free to worship and practice your religion and belief as long as you do not insult any existing religion (Islam)” in Indonesia. This is the most favored interpretation held by the MUI and other hard-line groups.
Under the above interpretation, Ahmadiyah is considered insulting “Islam” for their “deviant interpretation”. This kind of interpretation of the law is not without problems in its implementation.
The question is: How about Christianity? The council and their supporters absolutely agree that Christians’ belief in Jesus (Isa) and Allah is deviant from Islam. Should this religion also be banned and disbanded in Indonesia?
Asked this kind of question, the extremists say that if you enter Islam you no longer have the freedom of religion. You have the freedom only when you are outside Islam. Therefore, if Ahmadiyah insists on keeping their deviant interpretation of Islam they have to be outside Islam. In other words, the extremists now add another interpretation to the blasphemy law: “You may have a deviant interpretation of Islam provided you declare yourself non-Muslim.”
The two types of interpretation are following the model of Islamic states like Pakistan. Within the Islamic states the freedom of religion is interpreted within the limits of the principles of sharia as understood by mainstream groups.
But we should remember that Indonesia is not an Islamic state nor does it have any constitutional provision for Islam as a state religion or sharia as a source of legislation. Within the Indonesian legal system, the Constitution, not sharia, is the supreme law. We are a constitutional government under the rule of law and committed to human rights.
After the amendments, some provisions of human rights are incorporated into the Constitution of Indonesia. In this aspect, Indonesia is closer to a constitutional democracy than an Islamic theocratic state. The freedom of religion should be interpreted within the framework of constitutionalism and the bill of rights or human rights declarations, not within the framework of sharia.
Let us consult the Constitution, “the supreme law of the land”, and stay far away from the intolerant extremists in the matter of religious liberty. It is time to evaluate the blasphemy law by looking at constitutional provisions on the freedom of religion.
Any law against constitutional principles and rights is a really bad law.
The writer is lecturer at IAIN Antasari Banjarmasin and PhD student at the College of Law, Government & International Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia.