Religious groups at odds over blasphemy law
Feb, 4th 2010 09:20 AM
Religious minorities have expressed their support for a group of NGOs that have requested the 1965 Blasphemy Law be reviewed, saying the controversial law is outdated and irrelevant to a democratic Indonesia.
The Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) and the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), respectively representing the Catholic and Protestant churches, said the law did not sit well with current Indonesian society, a decade after the fall of Soeharto.
“Our society has matured since the law was first established in 1965. Civil society at that time was weak and that is why such laws were put in place and the guided democracy system was used,” PGI secretary-general Gomar Gultom told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
“But in the Reform era, Indonesians no longer wanted to be ordered around by the state,” he added. KWI executive secretary pastor Benny Susetyo said current social conditions today differed greatly from those in 1965.
“At that time there was a fear that religious sects with different interpretations would become a political issue.
“But people today are living in an atmosphere of transparency and openness,” he added. Several NGOs and promoters of pluralism have requested the Constitutional Court review several articles they believe discriminate against certain religious groups, specifically minority groups that have been denied their right to practice their beliefs.
The five contentious articles, they said, involved the government’s authority to dissolve religious groups whose beliefs and practices were deemed blasphemous by religious authorities, such as the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Religious Affairs Ministry.
Under the law, the government also has the authority to charge leaders and followers of suspected heretical groups.
Article 1 of the law stipulates that it is illegal to “intentionally publicize, recommend or organize public support for a different interpretation of a religion practiced in Indonesia or a religious ritual resembling that of another religion”.
It is also states that “practising an interpretation of a religion that deviates from the core of that religion’s teachings” is illegal.
Benny argued the article had the potential to trigger conflict, citing the expulsion of the Ahmadiyah congregation that led to it being officially banned by the government as a clear example of how the law could be used to persecute certain groups.
The Ahmadis have seen their mosques burned down in recent years and some of them are now living as refugees after the MUI declared their beliefs contrary and blasphemous to the “true” teachings of Islam.
“It is dangerous if a religious interpretation that is different from mainstream views is regarded as blasphemous.
“As long as those religious sects are not preaching violence or duping their followers, they have right to have their own interpretations,” Benny said.
The 1965 law, he explained, had allowed the state to interfere in what should be a private and religious domain.
“Blasphemous acts should be solved by strengthening the faith of each religion’s followers.
“Blasphemy will always occur; different interpretations are something we can not avoid.
“But we have to see this as criticism of religious institutions. Their leaders might not care about their followers enough, or they might not have done their jobs well enough to maintain their followers’ faith in their religions,” he said.
Gomar said religious leaders in the country had been lazy and depended on the government and the blasphemy law to solve their problems. But Gomar and Benny’s view was not shared by the Indonesian Buddhists Association (Walubi). Its secretary-general, Philip K. Widjaja, told the Post on Wednesday that he was against the NGOs’ move. “If new religions are allowed to exist there will be a massive systemic impact,” he said via a text message.
The Indonesian Hindu Dharma Association (PHDI) said it would support the review of the blasphemy law if there was a replacement of the law.
“Religious leaders must work together to formulate the new law so that no one will be left behind,” said PHDI’s director of communications and education, Wayan Suhira.
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, has publicly expressed strong opposition to the NGOs request to review the law. Hasyim Muzadi, its chairman, said scrapping the law would do more harm than good.
Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Muslim organization after NU, is also against the review, saying the law was not a form of government intervention in people’s faith. “When the state decides a religious sect is heretical, it does so after a massive protest from the majority of the followers of a religion,” Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsudin said, adding that the blasphemy law had nothing to do with religious freedom.