The 1965 Blasphemy Law is a tough challenge to human rights. Contrary to the protection of the right to worship, it raises the risk of human-rights violations. Not only can it be used to criminalize someone, the law is also easily manipulated by various actors.
The American NGO Freedom House reported in 2010 that there were at least four main actors who abused the Blasphemy Law namely the state, individuals, religious extremists and religious institutions.
The government can use the law to silence political opposition and dissidents, while individuals can manipulate the use of blasphemy charges to settle petty disputes within their community.
Religious extremists can use the law to justify attacks on religious minorities and increase the environment of intolerance and discrimination.
Religious institutions can take advantage of the law to impose a state interpretation of religious doctrine and label minority groups or sects as deviant or heretical.
Under Article 156 of the Penal Code, someone can be criminalized and even imprisoned for five years because of their expression of a religious belief.
Criminalization under the Blasphemy Law increased in the era of president Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono. According to Amnesty International in 2013, at least 106 individuals were prosecuted and punished under the Blasphemy Law. Most were from minority religious groups or those deemed as deviating from the six official religions.
Such criminalization not only violates the freedom of religion and belief but also the freedom of expression and thought and freedom from discrimination.
In the case of Tajul Muluk, a Shiite cleric from Sampang, East Java, he was convicted of being deviant and causing disharmony among Muslims, and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.
Hundreds of people attacked the Shia community in Sampang, Madura. The Sampang Ulema Council also issued a fatwa that Tajul’s teachings were deviant.
The impact of these actions not only affected Tajul but also the whole community. The Shiites were forcibly evacuated and until now there has been no clear guarantee of protection as to when they will return.
The Blasphemy Law is an issue that must be resolved by Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government. At the very least it should be addressed in the bill on protection of religious minorities, proposed by Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin.
It has to be consistent with international human rights law concerning freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and thought, and freedom from discrimination.
The government has to be firm in distinguishing between state law and religious teachings interpreted as law. It is important to avoid the dominance of particular religious groups and granting justification for certain groups to commit violence against others.
The government must effectively address the problems of religion in Indonesia and prevent misuse of the Blasphemy Law.
There must be judges and prosecutors with comprehensive understanding of human rights in relation to the Blasphemy Law.
Meanwhile the police, in accordance with the recommendation by the Center for the Study of Religion and Democracy (PUSAD) of the Paramadina Foundation, when policing religious conflicts must not only be equipped with the knowledge of human rights but also should build networks and support local communities or individuals in trouble.
Meanwhile, there must be continuous interfaith dialogue to avoid misunderstandings and improve the atmosphere of tolerance.
The government should encourage the better performance of the Interfaith Communication Forum (FKUB), which is strong enough to manage inter- and intra-religious dialogue.
At the international level, the government should be more assertive in opposing outright the blasphemy resolution proposed by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC submitted the resolution to the UN in 2010 and it was rejected.
Yudhoyono was negligent when he supported the resolution in the UN General Assembly in September 2012. Therefore, Jokowi should be firm and reject the issue of blasphemy at the international level.
Fixing the Blasphemy Law will not be an easy task, of course there will be resistance from various
We need to support and criticize the government in its handling of religious matters in Indonesia, while continuing to create a tolerant environment. We need to defend all victims of blasphemy — while God needs no defense.
*This article featured on Jakarta Post, 5 December 2014