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Indonesia: Government should drop the blasphemy law

Asian Human Rights Commission Statement - May 11, 2017

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned about the implementation of The Blasphemy Law Number 1/PNPS/1965 on the Prevention of "Religious Abuse and/or Defamation.

In many cases, the police investigators and prosecutors still apply article 156 and 156a of the Indonesian Penal Code to indict accused persons. Recently, the North Jakarta district court sentenced Jakarta governor, Mr. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, alias Ahok, to two years imprisonment. In the last 40 years, a similar pattern emerges in the implementation of the Blasphemy Law. Let us take the case of Aswendo Atmowiloto. In 1990, he was imprisoned after he wrote a survey in the Monitor tabloid. Another consideration is that of HB. Jassin. He was tried before the Courts in 1968 after writing a story Langit Makin Mendung (Darkness of the Sky).

The above mentioned articles are well known as rubber or elastic articles. To some extent they can be politicized and subjectively applied by law enforcement agencies. Blasphemy cases are often conducted to accommodate pressure groups and anti-tolerant mobs. Historically, in almost 100% of the blasphemy cases prosecuted before the Courts, Judges handed down guilty verdicts and prison sentences. We also found some similarities in their judgments, where Judges ignored evidence, witnesses, and defended petitions submitted by the defendants. This was evident in the blasphemy cases of Ustads Tajul Muluk, a leader of the Shia community in Sampang, Madura and in the case of Lia Eden.

The Blasphemy Law is frequently applied against minority religions and other belief groups. There are cases of persecution against minority religions and belief groups, and religious hatred behavior by hardliner groups. None have been seriously prosecuted by law enforcement agencies.

The AHRC notes that this situation remains due to weaknesses of the Government's policy stand and an unwillingness to seriously review the implementation of the Blasphemy Law. In the last ten years, the situation has worsened. The police are inept when they act or react in preventing persecution against minority religions and other beliefs. An example would be the persecution of the Ahmadiyya Congregation in Cikeusik in 2011. Up until now, the Court has failed to apply a high standard of law in this case. As a result, the Ahmadiyya are re-victimized, attacked and named as suspects. A similar situation took place against the Shia Community. They were attacked by anti-tolerant groups and evicted from their hometown. In the end, the Shia leader was prosecuted and punished by the Court.

There is no standard on the implementation of the Blasphemy Law and its interpretation can be very wide and elastic. In the accusations against Mr. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, we note that his case cannot be separated from the political background. Mr. Basuki is the current governor and was a candidate for the new governor's election held between February 2017 and April 2017. Mr. Basuki is saddled with a double minority problem--he is of Chinese descent and a Christian. This case began when he visited Pramuka Island on 27 September 2016. This official visit aimed at a discussion with local residents regarding the cultivation and monitoring of the Grouper Fishes Cultivation Program. Ahok convinced the local residents that although he will not be elected as the next governor in the February 2017 election, the Grouper Fishes Program will still be continued. In his speech Mr. Basuki stated:

"Ladies and gentlemen, you can't vote for me because you're being lied to by Al Maidah verse 51 and so on. "So don't believe people deep down ladies and gentlemen, you can't vote for me because [these people] are lying to you using Al Maidah verse 51 and so on."

Since the video of this circulated, it has triggered anger in the Muslim community. Despite Mr. Basuki's public media apology, pressure by mobs and hardliner groups continues. 'Trial by mob' in this case is very clear. It sets a very bad precedent for Indonesian law enforcement. Since the video circulated, hardliner groups pressured the Government and the police to speed up the investigation process and to detain Mr. Basuki. A few days before the Judges passed down their judgment, the masses pressured the Court and the Supreme Court to detain Mr. Basuki and give him the maximum sentence allowed.

On 9 May, 2017, the Judges sentenced Mr. Basuki to two years in prison. Currently he is in police custody, despite the fact that his lawyer submitted an appeal to the High Court.

Indonesia is a state party to key international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As such, it should seriously review the implementation of the Blasphemy Law and abolish it. The government has to develop a standard to eradicate religious hatred as regulated by article 20 of the ICCPR

1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

Under Article 20 of the ICCPR, it is clear that there should be a clear mens rea when a person or a group is guilty of religious hatred behavior. The government should reflect on this Article and consistently develop standards for it. So, we can see that there is a clear boundary between religious hatred and racial discrimination and the right to freedom of expression and opinion as regulated in the Covenant and in Article 28 of the Indonesian Constitution.

Source: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-038-2017.

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