Indonesia’s Constitutional Court dealt a blow to Indonesia’s already fragile religious freedom when it dismissed a petition to revoke the country’s blasphemy law.
The petition was filed by nine members of Indonesia’s persecuted Ahmadiyah religious community, who sought the law’s abolition on the basis that it fuels discrimination and abuse of religious minorities. On Monday, the court dismissed the petition, ruling that such abuses had nothing to do with the blasphemy law itself, but were rather linked to subsequent regulations derived from the law as well as “local regulations.” This petition marked the third failed attempt to repeal the law since 2010.
Article 156a of the 1965 Criminal Code punishes deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions with up to five years in prison. The law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities, including three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community. Former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, was sentenced to a two-year prison term for blasphemy in 2017 because of a public reference he made to a Quranic verse.
United Nations human rights experts and groups like the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation have criticized the law’s discriminatory use. Yet Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is seeking to reinforce and expand its scope through the so-called Religious Rights Protection Bill.
Indonesia’s Ahmadiyah community has been particularly vulnerable to violations of religious freedom under the blasphemy law and other discriminatory regulations. In 2008, the government of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.” Following the decree, militant Islamists launched several attacks against Ahmadiyah, including an attack in Cikeusik village in February 2011 that killed three Ahmadiyah men. Over 100 Ahmadiyah members are still displaced in Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara, after militant Islamists forced them out of their village in 2006.
And this May, an unidentified mob on Lombok Island attacked seven Ahmadi families and forced them out of their homes.
The government’s refusal to seek the law’s revocation raises troubling questions about its commitment to human rights for all Indonesians. Indonesia cannot claim to be a tolerant Muslim country while continuing religious discrimination and rights violations enabled by its blasphemy law.