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Indonesia

Rights group urges repeal of Indonesia's blasphemy law

Says fifty-year-old law is too often used to persecute minorities

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Rights group urges repeal of Indonesia's blasphemy law

Rupert Abbott (right), accompanied by Papang Hidayat, presents Amnesty International's new briefing paper (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

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Indonesia’s blasphemy law, which was passed in 1965 by the country’s first president, is used to violate human rights and should be repealed, Amnesty International urged Friday.

It is believed that then-President Sukarno issued the blasphemy law to accommodate requests from Islamic organizations to prohibit mystical indigenous beliefs, which they believed could tarnish existing religions in Indonesia. Today, it is frequently used to suppress minorities.  

“Amnesty International [believes] the blasphemy law violates Indonesia’s commitment on the international law to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief and also to freedom of expression. We’re calling for it to be repealed,” Rupert Abbott, research director at Amnesty’s Southeast Asia and the Pacific division, said during the launch of a new briefing paper held on Friday in Jakarta.

The 50-page briefing titled Prosecuting Beliefs shows that the number of blasphemy convictions skyrocketed during former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s decade in power, from 2004 to 2014, compared to previous administrations.

The paper details more than 100 people who have been imprisoned under the law or, as Abbott noted, “one person every month”.

Most are jailed for highly innocuous reasons, such as whistling while praying or posting personal views on social media.

Referring to the case of Tajul Muluk, a Shia leader from East Java who is currently serving a four-year sentence for blasphemy, Abbott said there were numerous instances of the law being used to suppress minorities. Muluk is believed to have been convicted after drawing the ire of local Sunni Muslim leaders.

“We see a range of actors like local politicians, police, hardline Islamic groups colluding, targeting and harassing religious minorities and using the blasphemy law as one of the tools to do this,” said Abbott.

Speaking with ucanews.com after the launch, Abbott acknowledged that Amnesty is concerned about the overall situation of freedom of religion in Indonesia. 

“We’ve seen great respect for human rights in many areas. But there are still problems, one of them is freedom of religion,” he said.

Papang Hidayat, Amnesty’s Indonesia researcher, said the Indonesian government had responded positively to their concerns.

“For example, the commitment of the law and human rights ministry remains in line with President Joko Widodo’s commitment, which is to uphold human rights and to strengthen tolerance,” he said.

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