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Indonesia’s Faith Leaders Joining Call For More Religious Freedom

By: Camelia Pasandaran

A noted forum of religious leaders became the latest in a line of organizations supporting the judicial review of the 1965 law on religious blasphemy, pointing out that the government deserved sharp criticism for defending a law that stifled religious freedom but forced citizens to follow only one of six state-recognized religions.

“Religions need no validation from the nation, because they existed long before our great nation was founded. Why should the nation limit people’s beliefs?” said Pastor Johannes Hariyanto, secretary general of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), a group formed by the late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid. ICRP is the local chapter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.

Johannes’s statements at the Vice Presidential Palace were made a day ahead of the Constitutional Court’s second session on Wednesday to review the 1965 Law on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religion.

Along with a number of other ICRP leaders, Johannes met with Vice President Boediono on Tuesday to report the conclusions of the group’s national conference in 2009, which include urging the state to strictly monitor how religious bylaws are being misused to threaten and oppress believers of minority sects.

Johannes said the ICRP disagreed with the state’s recognizing just a handful of religions.

“Those who keep faith with God but are not believers of religions acknowledged by this nation cannot get their marriages registered. They can’t obtain birth certificates for their children. They are, after all, entitled to government services, since they do pay taxes. If there are religions being acknowledged, then there will be religions that are not acknowledged,” Johannes said.

He expressed grave concern over the use of the 1965 law to “justify” violent acts towards minority groups that interpret religious tenets differently. As reported previously, Muslim sect Ahmadiyah has for years suffered persecution, violence and the burning down of their mosques by hard-line Islamic groups intent on driving the Ahmadiyah back towards the mainstream.

The 1965 law, which dates back to the last years of former President Sukarno’s rule, was challenged in 2009 by the late Gus Dur, renowned worldwide for his pluralistic beliefs, and several human rights organizations, including Imparsial and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI).

The petitioners argued that the 1965 law, which carried jail terms of up to five years, was unconstitutional as it inhibited religious freedom by recognizing only six faiths: Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, while rejecting all others. The law also bans people from publicly espousing or gathering popular support for certain religious interpretations.

Hendardi, the chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, one of the plaintiffs, said 200 human rights violations occurred in 2009 because the law was abused as an excuse to intimidate Christians and Muslim sects. It was also used to jail Kingdom of Eden sect leader Lia Aminuddin, who claimed to be the bride of the Archangel Gabriel.

ICRP had recorded 20 violations of religious freedom during the last month alone, most of them occurring in West Java and West Sumatra, Johannes said.

Among the scores of religious-based bylaws across the nation is one that forbids women in Tangerang from going out alone at night without being accompanied by family members, while in Pesisir Selatan district in West Sumatra, female employees and high school girls must wear clothing that meets Islamic standards of dress.


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