02/04/2010, 00.00

Jakarta, the Constitutional Court will consider amendments to the blasphemy law

by Mathias Hariyadi
Jakarta, the Constitutional Court will consider amendments to the blasphemy law

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In the coming days, the Indonesian Constitutional Court will consider whether to include amendments to the law on blasphemy. The debate has already raised controversy among those who want to maintain the text and human rights activists representing various NGOs, who are demanding changes to ensure "full religious freedom." Even the moderate Muslim organizations have deployed in defence of the legislation, to preserve the precepts of faith - they explain - from "deviant interpretations."

In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, only five religions are officially recognized: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Only in 2001 Confucianismwas added,  after the battle brought by the former president - who died on December 30 - Adburrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid.  

The blasphemy law, in particular, prohibits anyone from expressing - publicly and deliberately - feelings of hostility, hatred and contempt for religions. The sentences in cases of violation provide for up to five years in prison. It is used primarily to target the minority that do not comply with Islamic orthodoxy, including the Ahmadiyya sect, and labels the faithful of other not recognized religions as "heretics."  

Human rights activists are seeking amendments to the law which they consider "discriminatory" and "contrary to the democratic spirit" of a country that - as under the Constitution of 1945 - protects religious freedom and equal rights for all citizens. Several members of peace and human rights organizations define the blasphemy law of 1965 as a serious obstacle to freedom of worship and the pluralistic spirit of the nation. That is why in November 2009, the advocacy group Alliance for Freedom of Religion, supported by NGOs and activists for Interreligious Dialogue, has filed a formal request to the Constitutional Court asking for the norm to be amended.

However, the initiative is opposed by activists of the fundamentalist fringe in Indonesia and organizations that promote a usually moderate vision Islam, such as the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). In a meeting with students in Jakarta, Kiai Hasyim Muzadi Hajj, president of Nu made clear he opposes "any initiative to amend the current law." He adds that it is necessary to "make a division between democracy and moral deviation”. Last week, Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, stressed that a change could "incite social disorder."  

Suryadharma Ali, Minister for Religious Affairs, recalls that the law ensures social harmony among different (recognized) faiths in the country and stated: "Islam is open to various interpretations, but you can not touch the fundamental points of faith and doctrine. " A reference, not too implicit, to those which are branded as "deviant interpretations" promoted by some "heretical" sects such as the Ahmadis.


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