Subject: Judges Bowed to Fear in Blasphemy Ruling, Rights Activists Say; Islamic and Other Religious Groups Applaud Decision; update: U.S. Group Warns May Embolden Extremists (3 reports)

also: 2 JG reports: Islamic and Other Religious Groups Applaud Backing of Blasphemy Law; and update: U.S. Group Warns Blasphemy Law May Embolden Religious Extremists

The Jakarta Globe

April 21, 2010

Judges Bowed to Fear in Blasphemy Ruling, Rights Activists Say

by Camelia Pasandaran & Ulma Haryanto

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court was guided by fear when it rejected a motion to revise the 1965 Blasphemy Law, critics from local and international human rights and civic organizations claimed on Tuesday.

The criticism came a day after the court ruled that the bid to review or annul the law, which recognizes only six religions, had no legal basis.

Pungky Indarti, from human rights watchdog Imparsial, said the judges had opted to take the safer, conservative route by neglecting the voices of the minority, whose rights were trodden on in the name of the law.

“The fear of anarchy stemming from the possible annulment of this law is baseless,” Pungky said. “If a conflict occurs, it is only because law enforcers are unable to prevent it from happening.”

The ruling was backed by seven members of the nine-member panel, with one dissenter.

The law makes it illegal to “publicize, recommend or organize public support” for non-orthodox versions of six religions recognized and protected by the state, but it does not stop followers of minor faiths, such as Sikhs.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the ruling dealt a severe blow to religious freedom, and urged Indonesia to revoke the blasphemy law and other laws that infringed on the right to freedom of religion, belief and conscience.

“In 2006, a Jakarta court sentenced three leaders of a spiritual movement called the Eden Community ­ Lia Eden, M. Abdul Rachman and Wahyu Andito Putro Wibisono ­ to prison terms of two to three years for violating the blasphemy law,” said the group’s deputy director for Asia, Elaine Pearson. “The blasphemy law criminalizes the peaceful expression of certain religious beliefs. It hangs like a Sword of Damocles over the heads of religious minorities and those who practice traditional religions.”

Human Rights Watch praised Judge Maria Farida Indrati, who issued the sole dissenting opinion. Indrati said the law was a product of the past, and even if it was still valid according to the Constitution, it had been substantially weakened over the years with amendments made to the 1945 Constitution itself, particularly in respect to articles regarding human rights.

She said wrongful acts were being carried out against minority groups in its name and the articles in the law itself were in violation of the Constitution under amendments made in 1945 that explicitly guarantee freedom of religion.

In addition, Indrati said, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2006, states are to respect the right to freedom of religion.

Ifdhal Kasim, the chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham), said the court still followed the voice of the majority instead of focusing on the protection of human rights.

“The court’s image as an institution that provides constitutional protection to the people was not displayed through this ruling,” Ifdhal said.

The court still tends to favor the interests of larger groups, rather than individuals discriminated against by the law, he said.

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.

Pressure also came in the form of an attack within the court’s compounds.

Members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) assaulted four people in the court’s basement on the last day of arguments in the case.

But Syafi’i Anwar, of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism, said he chose to remain optimistic.

“The proceedings in the court itself were historic, with various testimonials delivered by a number of analysts and human rights activists,” Syafi’i said.

“As a human rights activist I am disappointed, and I think that this is a setback for protection of minority rights, but I think there will still be other ways to challenge the law.”

One of the review’s applicants, Hendardi, who chairs the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, suggested that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the House of Representatives consider drafting a bill focused on eliminating religious intolerance.

According to his institute, there were 291 reported cases of religious-based violence in 2009 nationwide, up from 265 cases in 2008.

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The Jakarta Globe April 21, 2010

Islamic and Other Religious Groups Applaud Backing of Blasphemy Law

by Ulma Haryanto

Hundreds of supporters of hard-line Islamic groups cried out “Allahu akbar!” (God is great) seconds after Constitutional Court chief Mahfud MD read out the court’s rejection of a motion to review the 1965 Blasphemy Law on Monday.

Leaders of conservative groups said on Tuesday that the law must be upheld because the six religions recognized by the state must be protected.

Soleh Mahmud, secretary general of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), said the ruling showed the court had considered not just the legal aspects of the case, but the religious and social aspects and consequences that would be borne by Indonesian communities should the law be reviewed or annulled.

Soleh said he was certain that in time all religions, not just those recognized by the state, would be protected.

“To those religions that prefer to deviate from the mainstream, such as cults or groups of atheists, keep your beliefs to yourselves. Do not try to lure or force people to join you, because that would be categorized as a crime,” Soleh said.

Under the Constitution, six religions are recognized and protected by the state — Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism. The law makes it illegal to “publicize, recommend or organize public support” for non-orthodox versions of those six religions.

“If somebody is making fun of the Prophet Muhammad, well, he’s not here anymore, so he can’t file a report. We need the law to make sure that no one will make fun of him,” Habib Fachri Jamalullail, deputy chairman of the FPI, said in Jakarta.

Ismail Yusanto, of the conservative Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, said that even with the existence of the 1965 law, there were still plenty of cases of religious defamation.

“During my involvement with the National Ulema Council, we investigated about 250 cults,” Ismail said.

Other major religious groups opposed to the judicial review included the Indonesia Hindu Dharma Association (PHDI) and the Indonesian Buddhist Council (Walubi).

In the PHDI’s view, the law had to be maintained because if it were revoked there would be anarchy.

Walubi also thinks the law is constitutional and can be used to solve religious-defamation and blasphemy cases.

Budi Santosa Tanuwibawa, of the Supreme Council for Confucian Religion in Indonesia (Matakin), said on Tuesday: “Every decision has its own pros and cons, and we have a special institution, the court, to decide on this matter. Whether it is right or wrong time will decide. Let’s just respect the country’s Constitution.”

He also hoped that through time the democratization and maturation process of the people would bring the country toward a better future. Budi said religious freedom, including expression of faith, was an urgent concern for everyone.

“This is a pluralistic country, and religious freedom has to be practiced carefully, because what we think is good might not be the same for other people,” he said.

The law was used in 2008 to force followers of the Islamic Ahmadiyah sect to go underground and has been cited by minority groups as a source of discrimination and intimidation.

Sardy, a witness who testified in an earlier hearing, said he could not get a letter of reference from the police to enlist in the military because he did not believe in any of the six faiths, though he believed in God.

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Agence France-Presse April 21, 2010

U.S. Group Warns Blasphemy Law May Embolden Religious Extremists

Washington. A United States government watchdog on Monday criticized Indonesia’s Constitutional Court for upholding a law against blasphemy, fearing it may embolden extremists.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a non-partisan body that advises the government, said that blasphemy laws often can cause rather than prevent 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,” said the Commission’s chair, Leonard Leo.

“Hopefully, the Indonesian government will recognize that overturning the blasphemy decree advances its fight against terrorism and extremism and enhances its reputation for religious tolerance and pluralism,” he said.

The 1965 law makes it illegal to “publicize, recommend or organize public support” for any religion other than or different to the orthodox versions of six sanctioned faiths: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism.

It 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.

The Constitutional Court on Monday rejected a petition against the law that was filed by moderate Muslims, minorities and rights groups.

The United States has been seeking to build a broader relationship with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

President Barack Obama is expected in June to travel to Indonesia, where he spent part of his youth.


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