Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia’s Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) ruled on 7 November that Indonesian identity papers will no longer only identify Indonesians according to recognised religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism). For human rights activists, “This opens a new chapter in religious freedom in Indonesia”. It also will lead to the recognition of native religious beliefs (Penghayatan kepercayaan)
Until now, the Indonesian state had refused to recognise indigenous beliefs as a religion since they do not have major religious figures nor sacred scriptures. Followers of native spirituality believe in the great power of the universe and show respect for their ancestors. Their religious practices include offering sacrifices as an expression of their respect for ancestors and nature.
The Indonesian Constitution of 1945 says that the state is “based on a belief in the One and Only God,” and guarantees "all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief”.
However, blasphemy legislation adopted in 1965 protects only the six aforementioned religions, the only ones officially recognised by the state, something further enshrined in other regulations and subsequent laws. Other religions are deemed illegal, heretic, and "strictly forbidden".
Identity papers (Kartu Tanda Penduduk) include a section in which bearers are required to declare their religious affiliation. Atheism is not legal in Indonesia and often leads to charges of blasphemy.
According to Bonar Tigor Naipospos, of the Setara Institute, a group that supports religious harmony, Indonesians who refuse to pick a religion on their identity cards have limited access to education, job opportunities and are denied the right to legal marriage.
Through its chief justice, Arief Hidayat, the Constitutional Court accepted a case filed against the state by followers of indigenous Indonesian faiths. Nggay Mehang Tana, Pagar Demara Sirait, Arnol Purba turned to the court when they were prevented from filling the religious section on their identity card with the word "Penghayatan kepercayaan".
On Friday, Home Affairs Minister Tanjug Kumolo said that his ministry would comply with the ruling and recognise its provisions in all of the country’s 34 provinces and 405 regencies.
Nia Sjarifudin, of the Unity in Diversity Alliance, noted that the Court’s historic ruling will also apply to non-indigenous religions like Baha'ism and Judaism.
Based on the 2000 census, about 400,000 people in Indonesia claim to belong to religions other than the six that are officially recognised. According to the Education Ministry, there are at least 187 kepercayaan (mysticism) currents or schools in the country, 53 in Central Java alone, and 50 in East Java.