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Groups urge Indonesia to place moratorium on blasphemy

UCA News - July 4, 2023

Indonesian advocacy groups have urged the government to amend the country's laws and appealed to the police to halt the enforcement of blasphemy-related articles to stop the abuse of religious minorities.

Leading religious freedom advocacy group, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said it expects the Indonesian National Police "will further contribute to strengthening Indonesia's diversity and guaranteeing protection and respect for the right to freedom of religion and belief for all citizens."

The July 2 statement from the Jakarta-based group came as the police marked the 77th anniversary of its founding on July 1. The guests included President Joko Widodo.

The Setara Institute encourages the police "to stop or at least implement a moratorium on the use of religious blasphemy articles," said the statement signed by Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the group's deputy chairman.

Blasphemy is banned in Indonesia under the 1965 Prevention of Religious Blasphemy Law. The legislation is supported by Articles 156 and 157 of the Criminal Code.

Article 156 criminalizes those who deliberately express their feelings or engage in actions deemed hostile and considered as abuse or defamation of a religion.

Article 157 defines criminal charges against a person who broadcasts, displays, or publicly posts writings or paintings containing statements of hostility, hatred, or humiliation against other people or religious groups.

Naipospos said they have asked the government for "a revision" and even the elimination of the articles.

"But this is indeed a long process because there is a lot of debate. Because now those articles remain in the law, we ask the police to stop using them," he told UCA News.

He explained that articles related to blasphemy have multiple interpretations, so the police can interpret whether an action is considered blasphemy or not.

The problem is, in almost all cases of blasphemy, the police actually refer to the fatwas of organizations such as the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). So, the MUI fatwa is used as a tool to legitimize interpretation by the police, he said.

In fact, fatwas are religious views of certain religious organizations which cannot be used as a formal basis for legal action to be taken by the state, he added.

In addition to existing legislation, the government enacted the 2008 electronic transaction law that sets a punishment of up to six years in prison for those who post blasphemous content via the internet against any of the country's official religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The Setara Institute noted that there was an increase in blasphemy cases, from 10 cases in 2021 to 19 cases last year.

More than 150 Indonesians, mostly from religious minorities, have been convicted of blasphemy since 1965, according to Human Rights Watch.

The case of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and former Jakarta governor, triggered global attention. Purnama was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison in 2017.

Naipospos said the articles related to blasphemy "are problematic legal provisions, with criminal elements that are vague and do not provide legal certainty."

The research during 2007-2022 found the articles are "often used to arbitrarily criminalize certain parties" and appear to be more of a "trial by mob," he said.

He cited the recent case of Lina Luftiawati, a Muslim social media celebrity, who made a video of her eating pork after saying the word Bismillah (In the name of Allah) in March.

"She was reported by an uztad (Muslim cleric) who threatened to mobilize Muslims," he said.

Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch stated that the continued use of these articles, despite being criticized by many parties, continues to be a bad record for Indonesia.

"The blasphemy cases against religious minorities, as well as state-sponsored discrimination against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, have contributed to the continuing decline in Indonesia's reputation as a tolerant Muslim country," he told UCA News.

Meanwhile, rights groups accused Indonesian police of rising cases of human rights violations.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence reported that from July 2021-June 2022, police committed 677 acts of violence that left 59 people dead and 928 injured.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 89 cases of violence against journalists from May 2022 to May 2023, including 20 cases perpetrated by the police.

Source: https://www.ucanews.com/news/groups-urge-indonesia-to-place-moratorium-on-blasphemy/10184