Written by Athanasia Safitri
Following the familiarization of the draft bill revision of the Indonesian criminal code (RKUHP) to the public in February-June 2021, the government through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (Kemenkumham) highlighted 12 points, one of which touched on the issue of blasphemy. Two months ago, on 7 April 2022, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), represented by Eva K. Sundari, initiated a public discussion in collaboration with the Indonesian Commision of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS). Sundari opened the discussion, held via Zoom, by stating that the purpose of the meeting was to seek solutions for the many problems related to freedom of religion. From the government level, the final draft is targeted for June this year and there is a need to follow up with other organizations and institutions which share the same purpose. The idea is not only to get people ready for the legalization of the draft bill, but also to give space for the public so that the issue can be addressed urgently and to avoid the abuse of policy by the government in favor of certain religious groups.
Sakdiyah Ma’ruf moderated the event in which Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir (Director of ICRS), and Fitria Sumarni (Ahmadiyah Law Committee of Indonesia) presented their views on RKUHP September 2019, especially as it pertains to blasphemy. Representatives from the government included Djoko Pudjirahardjo from the National Law Development Agency of Indonesia (BPHN), and members from parliament (DPR) were also invited to give their responses; Taufik Basari (member of Commision III) and Luluk Nur Hamidah (member of PKB party, Commision IV). The discussion was held to respond to the draft bill of RKUHP September 2019 which has two particular points related with penal law in religion and blasphemy. Blasphemy and issues of religious freedom are also mentioned in other laws such as UU no 1, 1965 article no 156a KUHP about blasphemy, and UU no 17, 2013 about mass organization which speaks about blasphemy and desecration, not to mention UU ITE and its revisions.
Religious and Interreligious Challenges We are Facing
Fitria Sumarni noted the many violations against human rights and the freedom of religion faced by the followers of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia including the enforcement of particular religious practice, disturbance to their worship places, the restriction and permit limitations to build worship places, physical assaults, and hate speech toward the members. The rejection by public officials to give Ahmadiyah followers the public services they deserve has been going on since 2013, which results in the delay of them obtaining ID cards, birth records, and marriage certificates mentioning the religion of the members. Other cases include the difficulties in land use, conducting religious activities, and building mosques. These problems occur in different provinces revealing this issue is not particular to one area. Ahmadiyah Law Committee represented by Sumarni, proposed several recommendations: a profound research study on blasphemy in the criminal justice code draft which involves academic scholars, human rights activists, and institutions; the deferment of RKUHP ratification; and the revision of UU no 1, 1965 to avoid the abuse of the bill for the benefit of specific religious groups.
Zainal Bagir later noted a shift in the definition of blasphemy where the target, scope, and the number of the cases have grown. Many abuses of the law on blasphemy have occured with overlapping justification and the discrimination toward minority religions has increased with allegations of blasphemy. Between 1965-2000, there were around 10 legal cases related to blasphemy while in the period of 2000-2015 there were more than 100 cases of blasphemy reported.
Bagir argued that some conflicts even were put upside down by giving an example of a case where someone in public threatened to kill alleged blasphemers. Meanwhile, a man who was threatened was blamed on account that he belonged to a minority group accused of conducting blasphemy. Ahmadiyah and Syi’ah are among the minority religious groups who are being mistreated by this law and by the sake of its enforcement. Some have raised the question as to whether it should be considered blasphemy when the majority violates the rights of the minority. Bagir continued by stating that this false repetition only leads to religious intolerance among our communities. He strongly suggested that the RKUHP review needs to be done in order to gather more recommendations from the existing experiences before the bill’s finalization.
Viewing Blasphemy Anew
The discussion continued with insights from Taufik Basari who agreed that there are many laws on blasphemy and the actions related to it. In our society now we have three points to consider regarding the implementation of the law on the issue of blasphemy. They are the way the law enforcement officers respond to the cases, the view from the people in the community, and the role of government toward the cases. The review of the law on blasphemy in a new way, with additional suggestions from religious activists and academic scholars, must be proposed immediately to the government and parliament. It is urgent to create advocacy, persuasion and strategy to enable this review process.
From the government, Djoko Pudjirahardjo added that the actualization of the existing penal law, also the one which was still under discussion, needs to be observed closely in order to make it finalized accordingly this June. Luluk Nur Hamidah from the parliament shared her thoughts focusing on the double standard of blasphemy when it comes to the point where the action is done by the people in the same religious community, or if it is conducted originally to adapt to the new interpretation of one religious teaching. There has not been a clear line about it and she suggested that what people may think as blasphemy can be in a form of new self actualization or conceptualization in the religious tradition. She argued this act to be considered as a new way toward enrichment in the way of thinking and culture in the society which needs to be evaluated and discussed instead of categorized as a nuisance to any particular religious doctrine.
The question and answer session concluded with invitation from all speakers and contributors to work together in ensuring that the law on blasphemy should not be a boomerang when finalized. Misconduct of the law must be reported to the authorities, especially when it is done to the minorities, to avoid being an incentive for intolerance among religious people. Therefore to combat intolerance, there should be more ways in looking anew that the problem does not lie on blasphemy and the actions related to it but more on the uniformity in determining the definition. It should be stated clearly in the bill as there are many interpretations of blasphemy. Furthermore, discussion with the government needs to be activated to boost the process of RKHUP revision. In order to make it succeed, RKHUP must be viewed eventually as the government’s legacy to take part in the restoration of justice, religious de-colonialism to create a more democratic state enriched by the same commitment with different religious backgrounds.
Recorded discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gX0UZKcoTA