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Indonesia Ruling Lifts Blasphemy Prosecution Threat to Religious Minorities

Constitutional Court Recognizes ‘Native Faith’ ID Card Category

Members of Indonesia's religious minorities, including native faith believers, celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day outside the State Palace, August 2016. Many of the slogans on the banners they carry advocate for and promote religious tolerance. © 2016 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch

Indonesia’s beleaguered religious minority groups got some rare good news today.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the Population Administration Law’s prohibition on adherents of native faiths from listing their religion on official identification cards is unconstitutional.

The ruling will help protect adherents of more than 240 such religions from prosecution under Indonesia’s dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law. Prior to the court’s ruling, members of religious minorities faced an impossible choice: leave blank the ID card’s religion column and possibly be accused of being an atheist – which is punishable under the blasphemy law – or select one of Indonesia’s six officially protected religions and be accused of falsifying their identity. The 1965 blasphemy law only protects Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

All Indonesians must obtain a national ID card at age 17 and are required to apply for official documents including birth, marriage, and death certificates. For decades, the religious identity category of national ID cards and their implicit blasphemy prosecution threat for officially unrecognized religions have led some members of those communities to avoid applying for ID cards, depriving themselves of essential state services. Some local governments have imposed even more onerous discriminatory rules restricting religious minorities’ access to ID cards. In June, representatives of the Ahmadiyah community in Manislor district in West Java’s Kuningan regency filed a formal complaint against a local government requirement that they renounce their faith to obtain a national ID card.

The court ruling was a response to a legal challenge to the discriminatory articles of the 2006 Population Administration Law filed by several native faith adherents. If enforced, the ruling will eliminate an element of discrimination built into Indonesian law that affects the country’s estimated 400,000 native faith adherents. But it won’t help Ahmadiyah and Shia communities, who can still expect to be victims of routine bureaucratic discrimination related to national ID card issuance.

The Ministry of Home Affairs should use the court ruling as a starting point to abolish all of the discriminatory regulations and institutions that target religious minorities. As long as they remain on the books, the rights of Indonesia’s religious minorities will remain in peril.

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