According to a recent report, the figures for blasphemy cases in Indonesia have soared during the reign of former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, thus leaving behind a huge amount of work to be completed by the new government, especially with regards to protecting people’s religious freedom.
During his presidency from 2004 to 2014, 106 people were found guilty under the country’s blasphemy laws, with some being imprisoned for as long as five years. Amnesty International claims nine of the convicts are still in prison.
“These numbers themselves paint a vivid picture. Even if the Blasphemy Law has been enacted since 1965, and is also included in the Criminal Code [KUHP], it was rarely used until 2004, when Yudhoyono took office and convictions under the blasphemy law skyrocketed,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s South East Asia and Pacific Research director.
Comparatively, many fewer people were prosecuted or convicted under the same laws during Suharto’s regime, which lasted from 1968 to 1998. According to records, only 10 people were found guilty under blasphemy laws during that period.
“Indonesia’s blasphemy laws fly in the face of international law and standards and must be repealed urgently,” Abbott said, referring to Law No. 5/1969 and Article 156(a) of the KUHP.
In 2009, a coalition of prominent leaders and nonprofit organizations lodged a judicial review with the Constitutional Court, stressing on the fact that blasphemy laws do in fact contravene Indonesians’ right to religious freedom, as mentioned in articles 28E and 29 of Indonesia’s Constitution.
However, the court upheld the validity of blasphemy laws on the basis of religious values and public order, as mentioned in article 28J(2) of the Constitution.
“They are all prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally,” Abbott said, citing Tajul Muluk as an example.
Muluk, who is a practicing Shia Muslim as well as a religious leader from East java, is serving a four-year sentence, after local police in Sampang booked him under a blasphemy case in 2012. Initially, Muluk was sentenced for two years but the sentence was extended by another two years afterwards. Most of his followers continue to be barred from going back to their homes, as government officials say the environment is unsafe for them but do little to offer the concerned people a constructive solution. Muluk is only one of the many examples of how blasphemy cases are booked at the local police level – where political activists and religious hardliners often influence security personnel to target minority groups.
Abbott said the rise in blasphemy cases should be looked upon as a violation of Indonesians’ freedom of religion, especially since the ruling party does not seem to keep the people’s fundamental rights in mind. He said President Joko Widodo could make a fresh start and send out a powerful message at the same time by releasing the nine current prisoners.
“It’s been encouraging to hear the President making human rights commitments, but now is the time to deliver and put those words into action,” he said.
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