Tara Marchelin, Jakarta – The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, or YLBHI, said they had discovered 38 blasphemy cases in Indonesia from January to May.
In the past, the country's problematic blasphemy law has mostly been used to prosecute members of religious minorities.
"Out of the 38 cases, six were in South Sulawesi, five in North Maluku, five in East Java, four in West Java and four in North Sumatra," YLBHI director Asfinawati said in an online discussion on Tuesday.
Two cases each were found in South Borneo, Riau Islands and Jakarta, and one case each was found in Gorontalo, Jambi, West Nusa Tenggara, Papua, Riau, North Sulawesi and South Sumatra, she added.
According to her, children under the age of 18 were involved in some of the cases.
"In two cases, five children under the age of 18 are the suspects. In six cases, the suspects are eight people under the age of 21," she said.
According to the YLBHI, blasphemy charges are usually made using article 156A of the Criminal Code (KUHP), Article 59 verse 3 of the Societal Organization Law and article 28 verse 2 and article 45A verse 2 of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (UU ITE).
"Acts that the public and law enforcers often consider as blasphemous include making independent interpretations of religious teachings, pretending to be a prophet, insulting religions or religious symbols, proselytizing, hate speech, obstructing religious activities and performing acts that contradict religious teachings," Asfinawati said.
She said Indonesia still has no clear legal definition of blasphemy, which meant law enforcers often succumb to public pressure to throw blasphemy charges against innocent individuals.
According to the YLBHI's research. 28 of the blasphemy cases between January and May were instigated by the police and 23 charges were filed ostensibly to prevent public disturbance and vigilantism.
Asfinawati mentioned a case in which an alleged blasphemer was rounded up by the public and brought to a police station.
"Cases like this create a dilemma for the police. Often they feel obliged to charge the accused with blasphemy. What we need is a clearer definition of blasphemy and a paradigm shift on what 'public disturbance' entails," she said.
Asfinawati said the YLBHI had made recommendations to the government and lawmakers to remove article 27 verse 3, article 28 verse 3 and article 45A verse 2 of the Electronic Information and Transaction Law to prevent divergent interpretations and criminalization of the freedom of religion, opinion and other rights of expression.
"The government and lawmakers also need to issue a new regulation on hate crime or crimes based on hatred of race, ethnicity and religion. There should be a separate article on hate speech because article 156 of the Criminal Code is not a perfect fit for cases like this," she said.
A separate law on religious discrimination is also needed, she added.
"We also need a separate religious discrimination law even though Indonesia already has the 2008 Law on the Prohibition of Racial and Ethnicity Discrimination. It's time for this country to have a specific law on religious discrimination to complement the existing discrimination law," she said.