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March 01, 2010
Blasphemy Law Leads to Human Rights Abuses: Activists
Liberal religious and human rights activists on Monday called on the government to overturn the 1965 law on blasphemy and replace it with one that better protected freedom of religion.
Dawam Raharjo, president director of the Religious and Philosophical Study Institute (LSAF), said the law, which is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court, paved the way for serious human rights abuses and allowed minority religious groups to be persecuted.
“There is no alternative but to annul the law. The government should replace the law with one that actually protects religious freedom,” he said. “The law only provides the opportunity and legal basis for mainstream religious groups to intimidate minorities.”
Dawam said police were reluctant to protect religious minorities because of the law.
“The majority of intimidation cases end up with the arrests of the minority followers while the attackers are protected,” he said. “There is little protection for citizens to practice their beliefs.”
Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a human rights group, said his organization had uncovered hundreds of cases of abuse of religious minorities.
“These range from burning and destroying places of worship and banning minorities from practicing their beliefs to acts of violence and threats [against individuals],” he said.
“The 1945 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and belief, yet these rights are neglected and unenforced. Meanwhile, there are people who are forced to practice their religion in secrecy out of fear of intimidation.”
Last Friday, New York-based Human Rights Watch wrote to US President Barrack Obama, urging him to make human rights issues, including the blasphemy law, key discussion points during his visit to Indonesia from March 20-22.
The group questioned the Indonesian government’s commitment to religious freedom because it continued to defend the antiquated blasphemy law.
The minister of religious affairs, Suryadharma Ali, and the minister of justice and human rights, Patrialis Akbar, both from conservative Muslim parties, the United Development Party (PPP) and National Mandate Party (PAN), respectively, have condemned the court’s review.
They have insisted that the law “ensured freedom of religion,” and argued that changing it would “create horizontal conflicts.”
“It is the government’s prerogative to say that,” Hendardi said. “But our data suggests otherwise — that the law inhibits freedom of religion.”
The law recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Other religions are officially banned.
The law also prohibits alternative interpretations of recognized religions, particularly Islam.
In 2008, the government used the law to formally ban Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect, because it held that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet of Islam, a claim that contradicts mainstream Muslim beliefs.