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Indonesia Sends Ominous Signal to Religious Minorities

Government Rejects UN Members’ Concerns Over Country’s Blasphemy Law

Two men hold the Indonesian flag as the compound of the Gafatar sect burns after being set on fire by local villagers, at Antibar village, West Kalimantan province, January 19, 2016.  © 2016 Jessica Helena Wuysang/Reuters

The Indonesian government has just made it clear that the country’s dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law is here to stay – which is bad news for beleaguered religious minorities.

During the United Nation’s periodic review of Indonesia’s rights record last week, Jakarta rejected recommendations by UN member states that the government “introduce legislation to repeal the blasphemy law”. It also rejected a recommendation to amend or revoke laws that limit the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the country.

Indonesia’s religious minorities have every right to feel alarmed at this position. That’s because these laws, and the blasphemy law in particular, have frequently been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities. Recent victims include three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community, prosecuted for blasphemy following the violent forced eviction of more than 7,000 Gafatar members from their farms on Kalimantan Island last year. Another was the former Jakarta Governor, Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, sentenced to two years in prison in May.

And Indonesia is not satisfied with just ignoring UN calls to scrap the problematic blasphemy law either – the country’s Religious Affairs Ministry wants to reinforce and expand its scope through the so-called Religious Rights Protection bill, which parliament will likely debate later this year.

The Indonesian government will probably point to its acceptance of other, ambiguously worded recommendations – which only pay lip-service to the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion – as evidence of its commitment to religious freedom. But Indonesia’s religious minorities are already painfully aware of the glaring gap between their government’s religious freedom rhetoric and the far more abusive reality, which it has passively and actively fostered.

By rejecting pleas from UN member states to abolish the blasphemy law, the Indonesian government is telling the world that it will continue to pander to bigotry and discrimination at the expense of the rights of religious minorities. 

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