Jakarta – International rights organizations are urging Indonesia to review its blasphemy law following the sentencing of Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam.
Phelim Kine, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, an American-funded international non-governmental organization (NGO), warned of the dangers of Indonesia's blasphemy law, which can and has been used to punish those who deviate from the tenets of Indonesia's six officially recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – with sentences of up to five years in prison.
"The law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and of traditional religions," Kine said in a tweet on Tuesday (09/05).
He also commented on President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's response to Ahok's conviction. Jokowi late on Tuesday called for the public to respect the ongoing legal process, including the verdict against Ahok.
"He should instead deliver on his pledges to promote religious pluralism in Indonesia and abolish the blasphemy law and other discriminatory regulations that threaten the country's religious minorities," Kine said.
Another expression of concerns came from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
"We are concerned by jail sentence for Jakarta governor for alleged blasphemy against Islam. We call on Indonesia to review blasphemy law," OHCHR Southeast Asia regional office said in a tweet on Tuesday.
The Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a statement received by the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday that the verdict is "deeply disconcerting" not only for Indonesia, but for the entire Asean region.
Charles Santiago, the chairman of APHR, said in the statement that the verdict places Indonesia's position as a regional leader in democracy and openness in jeopardy "and raises concerns about Indonesia's future as an open, tolerant, diverse society."
Santiago also said that Ahok is a "victim of rising extremism and religious identity politics," noting that the court's decision to sentence Ahok to two years in jail will impact justice in Indonesia overall, not just for the governor.
"It is a triumph for intolerance and an ominous sign for minority rights. At a time when fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, are under increasing threat region-wide, this verdict sends the wrong signal to Indonesia's neighbors in the Asean community," he said.
Amnesty International also voiced a similar response in a statement, saying that Ahok's conviction and imprisonment "will tarnish Indonesia's reputation for tolerance."
This is not the first time Indonesia has been criticized by the international community for upholding its blasphemy law, which many viewed as discriminatory toward religious minorities.
During the country's review at the 27th session of the United Nations Universal Period Review last week, delegations from Sweden and Spain specifically recommended Indonesia to work on repealing the blasphemy law from the national criminal code.