Diana Mariska, Jakarta – The National Human Rights Commission, or Komnas HAM, has thrown their support behind Sudarto, a rights activist from cross-community study center Pusaka Foundation, who is facing criminal charges for posting on social media about the ban to celebrate Christmas in two districts in West Sumatra last year.
Sudarto's social media posts brought the attention of the mainstream media to the case. The subsequent public backlash put pressure on the districts to lift the ban. But on Jan. 7, police arrested Sudarto for allegedly spreading fake news.
Komnas HAM commissioner Choirul Anam said in Jakarta on Tuesday the commission would provide legal assistance to try to free Sudarto from the criminal charges.
Even though Sudarto was released the next day, with police praising him for being "cooperative" during his investigation, the charges against him have remained.
"He was accused of spreading fake news about the ban to celebrate Christmas. The ban in the two districts [Dharmasraya and Sijunjung] was real. So where's the hoax?" Choirul said.
On Dec. 21, Catholics in Jorong Kampung Baru in Sikabau, a village in Pulau Punjung, Dharmasraya, were told to follow an agreement made by local elders – without consulting them – to refrain from celebrating Christmas.
The agreement was written down in a letter and signed by the Sikabau village head, the heads of the local tribes, village elders and youth representatives.
The letter stated that Catholics should hold their Christmas celebrations in the neighboring town of Sawahlunto, where the nearest church is located. They were allowed to celebrate Christmas in their own homes as long as they did not invite anyone else.
Similarly, Christians in the Sijunjung subdistrict were also only allowed to perform prayers at their homes on Christmas and not allowed to invite any friends.
Komnas HAM said it would make use of a protection scheme for human rights activists to assist Sudarto. Choirul said according to the scheme Sudarto's background as a rights activist should be taken into account when reviewing his case.
"Sudarto is a rights activist who has worked on many issues related to religious freedom, tolerance and minority groups," Choirul said.