Indonesia's Blasphemy Epidemic

Several human rights groups in Indonesia have called on the government to place a moratorium on blasphemy, urging them to amend the country’s laws on blasphemy and calling on the police to temporarily halt the enforcement of blasphemy-related articles to stop the abuse of religious minorities in the Muslim-majority country.

The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, one of Indonesia’s leading advocacy groups for human rights and religious freedom, released a statement, expecting the Indonesian National Police (INP) "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."

This statement, released by the Jakarta-based institute on July 2nd, came after the police and the Indonesian government marked its 77th founding anniversary, with guests including Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

In the statement signed by the group’s deputy chairman, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the Setara Institute encouraged Indonesian authorities “to stop or at least implement a moratorium on the use of religious blasphemy articles."

Under laws such as the 1965 Prevention of Religious Blasphemy Law and Articles 156 and 157 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, blasphemy is prohibited in the Muslim-majority, South East Asian island nation of more than 270 million people.

Article 156 of the Indonesian Criminal Code punishes those guilty of deliberately expressing their feelings or engaging in actions deemed hostile, abusive, or defaming a religion. Article 157 outlines criminal charges against people guilty of publicly displaying, broadcasting, or posting texts or illustrations containing statements of hostility, hatred, or humiliation against other people or religious groups.

In addition to existing legislation, the Indonesian government passed the 2008 electronic transaction law that punishes those who post blasphemous content on social media against the country’s official religions - Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism - of up to six years imprisonment.

Naipospos said they asked the government to revise or remove these blasphemy-related 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,” Naipospos told journalists.

He also explained that blasphemy-related laws in Indonesia can have multiple interpretations, so the police can interpret whether an action is blasphemous or not. Naipospos also added that in almost all cases of blasphemy, the Indonesian police often refer to fatwas issued by the country’s top Islamic body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), and that fatwas are often religious views by only one religious body and therefore cannot be used as a legal basis for formal action by the government.

The Setara Institute said there was an uptick in blasphemy cases from 10 in 2021 to 19 in 2022. More than 150 Indonesians have also been convicted of blasphemy since 1965, according to Human Rights Watch. Prominent Indonesians accused of blasphemy include former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, and social media personality Lina Luftiawati, a Muslim.

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