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Indonesia: Vice Presidential Candidate Has Anti-Rights Record

Amin’s Abusive Fatwas Put Burden on Jokowi to Defend Rights

Joko Widodo, Indonesia's president, left, stands for photographs with Ma'ruf Amin, top Islamic cleric and vice presidential candidate, after submitting their nomination papers to the General Election Commission in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018.  © 2018 Dimas Ardian/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

(Jakarta) – The decision by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to select Ma’ruf Amin as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2019 presidential election, raises questions about Jokowi’s commitment to improve human rights protection for all Indonesians, Human Rights Watch said today.

Amin, who has been the chairman of Indonesia’s Ulama Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, or MUI), the semi-official umbrella organization of Islamic group since 2007, and the supreme leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama – Indonesia’s largest mass Muslim organization – since 2015, has played a pivotal role in fuelling worsening discrimination against the country’s religious and gender minorities.

Over the past two decades at the MUI, Amin has helped draft and been a vocal supporter of fatwas, or religious edicts decrees, against the rights of religious minorities, including the country’s Ahmadiyah and Shia communities, as well lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Those fatwas, although not legally binding, have been used to legitimize increasingly hateful rhetoric by government officials against LGBT people and in some cases, fuelled deadly violence by militant Islamists against religious minorities.

“Amin has been central to some of the most intolerant elements of Indonesian contemporary religious and political culture, so fear of the negative impact he could have on the rights and safety of religious and gender minorities is well founded,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director of Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

Jokowi explained his decision to make Amin his running mate on the basis that “we complete each other, nationalistic and religious.” Jokowi has been the target of attacks by his opponents who questioned his religious piety by accusing him of pursuing “liberal secularism,” and of secretly being Christian or the son of communist parents. Amin’s selection indicates an effort at least in part to rebut these attacks.

Ma’ruf Amin has a well-documented history of intolerant views:

  • In October 2016, the MUI declared that then- Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama,  a Christian, had committed blasphemy against Islam. That fueled the creation of a radical anti-Ahok Islamist alliance that led to his political downfall and eventual imprisonment for violation of the country’s blasphemy law.
  • In February 2016, the MUI issued a fatwa calling for the criminalization of LGBT activities. Amin personally justified the fatwa on the basis that “homosexuality, whether lesbian or gay, and sodomy is legally haram and a form of crime,” That fatwa has helped fuel dangerous levels of anti-LGBT discrimination and led to arbitrary and unlawful raids by police and militant Islamists on private LGBT gatherings. These abuses have effectively derailed public health outreach efforts to populations vulnerable to HIV infection.
  • In March 2015, the MUI issued a fatwa calling for same-sex acts to be subject to punishments ranging from caning to the death penalty. The fatwa equates homosexuality with a curable disease with related sexual acts “that must be heavily punished.”
  • In 2008, the MUI responded to a 2006 Ministry of Health ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) by issuing a fatwa supporting FGM and declaring that “it is a form of honor for women.”
  • In 2005, when Amin chaired the MUI’s fatwa commission, the organization issued a fatwa that decreed that the Ahmadiyah, an Islamic revivalist movement, deviated from Quranic teachings. The government responded to that fatwa in 2008 by passing a nationwide anti-Ahmadiyah decree that bans the Ahmadiyah from proselytizing their faith. Since then, Islamist militants have repeatedly attacked the Ahmadiyah community, often with the passive or active involvement of government officials and security forces.
Jokowi’s decision to make Amin his running mate will compound widespread public cynicism about his administration’s failure to deliver on electoral promises to address Indonesia’s pressing human rights problems. He has released some Papuan political prisoners and announced a vague plan to address decades of gross human rights violations, including the massacre of up to 1 million people in 1965-1966.

However, Jokowi has largely ignored security force impunity for rights abuses and violations of women’s rights and religious freedom. He has also embraced the use of the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers and has spoken out only once, and in highly ambiguous terms, in defense of the country’s beleaguered LGBT population. During Indonesia’s May 2017 United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, the Indonesian government rejected multiple recommendations by UN member states including those on issues related to the rights of LGBT people, the abusive blasphemy law, and the death penalty. An Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official described the recommendations as “hard to accept” for reasons including the vague and undefined notion of “Indonesian conditions.”

“Ma’ruf Amin has already shown he has no hesitation in putting vulnerable minorities at risk,” Kine said. “Jokowi will need to prove that he values his obligation to defend the rights and dignity of all the Indonesian people above pandering to extreme intolerance for short term political gain.”

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