Indonesia government under fire for treatment of religious minorities

Groups slam discriminatory laws and unjust law enforcement
Indonesia government under fire for treatment of religious minorities

Jayadi Damanik (standing) speaks at the regional conference on Monday in Jakarta (Photo by ucanews.com)

Rights groups slammed the Indonesian government on Monday, saying its failure to address discriminative aspects of the blasphemy law has left large portions of the population open to abuse.

The 1965 blasphemy law recognizes only six religions — Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism. Others are banned, and the law also prohibits alternative interpretations of recognized religions, including Islam.  

“The existence of the regulations is obviously against human rights because the state sets a limit on citizens in terms of adhering to religions and practicing them,” said Jayadi Damanik, coordinator of Freedom of Religion and Belief Desk at the National Commission on Human Rights, speaking on the first day of a two-day regional religious rights conference.

The problem is compounded by unequal law enforcement, said Damanik.

“For example, the police — in many cases like rallies — tend just to relocate victims instead of taking strict action against intolerant groups delivering hate speeches. Also, the legal system comes down hard on minorities, not groups committing violent acts.” 

Even when the law does rule in favor of a non-recognized group, local authorities can simply ignore the court.

In 2010, the congregation of GKI Taman Yasmin in Bogor, West Java was banned from using their church, and the local government revoked their building permit. Though the Supreme Court later ruled that the congregation could reopen, the mayor has ignored the ruling. Since 2012, the congregation has held Sunday services on the street in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta to agitate the the reopening of their church. 

Febi Yonesta, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, said that such discriminative regulations led to frequent persecution and intimidation.

“Our findings often reveal that the issue lies in intolerant groups as well as leaders taking benefits from the issue for the sake of their own political interest,” she said.

National Police spokesman Inspector-General Ronny F Sompie acknowledged that the police often faced difficulties in dealing with hate speeches delivered by intolerant groups.

“It is often said that it is freedom of speech. The human rights perspective highly upholds freedom of speech indeed as it is the main foundation of a democratic society. However, it cannot be justified if it is used to create violence,” he said.

But he also insisted the police were more ready than ever to work with NGOs and civil society to promote better rights protection.

“The National Police, in this case, is truly ready to build a network with all parties so as to maintain security and social order and to protect freedom of religion and belief,” he added.

In his opening speech, Muhammad Machasin from the Religious Affairs Ministry’s Directorate of Islamic Guidance admitted that the Indonesian government has to do more to protect freedom of religion and belief.

“We are walking to the bright side. However, religious-based issues have still to be addressed. There are a lot of things to be done together. The Religious Affairs Ministry cannot do it alone,” he said.    

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