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Religion and Society

Indonesia Rejects the Blasphemy Law Review

On April 19 the Indonesian Constitutional Court gave its long expected verdict: after almost two months of hearings it rejected the demand by a number of Indonesian non-governmental organi-zations to declare the blasphemy law of 1965 unconstitutional. Among the petitioners was the National Human Rights Commission.



The petition was supported by the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference and the “Council of the (Protestant) Indonesian Churches”. Against them stood the Government and all mainstream Muslim organizations.



While the petitioners contended that the law contravenes religious freedom as contained in the constitution, its defenders warned of dire consequences, should the law be declared void. Without it, so their argument run, people, mean-ing, of course, Muslims, would take the law into their own hands and violence against minorities could then not be excluded. While the petitioners brought forward an impressive array of experts, among them some highly respected Muslim intellectuals, their position was weakened by the fact that Hindus, Buddhists and Confucians opposed them, taking over the argument that without this law they would be completely without legal protection. What was it all about? In 1965, as tensions between Muslims and the Communists were growing, the then President Sukarno, as a concession to Muslims, issued a decree, later become law, that not only forbade insulting religions but outlawed all religions, creeds and movements outside the five officially recognized religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism, to which Confucianism was added much later ). The decree was primarily directed against the so-called "Inner Life Movements", mystical communities very popular among the Javanese, which orthodox Muslims regarded as a threat to Islam.



Since then, numerous heterodox Islamic movements have been suppressed, among them prominently the Achmadiyah sect. This sect had lived in Indonesia peacefully since the 1920th, but in the last five years it has became victim of brutal attacks by Islamic mobs. The law also implies that adherents of indigenous religions, like the Marapu religion on the island of Sumba, cannot legally marry, thus their children cannot legally inherit.



The opponents of the law had argued that having a different belief from a mainstream religion does not constitute blasphemy, that the state is in no position to decide whether a religious creed is de-viant and that recognition of only six religions contravenes religious freedom as contained in the Indonesian constitution.



The decision of the Constitutional Court is another victory for hardline Muslims in Indonesia and a sign of the timidity of the state. It does not directly concern the offi-cially recognized minority religions, but opens the door still further to Islamic pressure against Islamic minority groups and syncretistic mystical sects.