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Islam and Tolerance (25 Nov 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)


Indonesia’s Blasphemy Laws




The Economist

Nov 24th 2016

INDONESIA is admired for successfully combining Islam and democracy. Yet this month police formally declared the country’s most prominent Christian politician, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the governor (in effect, mayor) of Jakarta, to be a suspect in a blasphemy case. If convicted, Mr Purnama, known as Ahok, faces up to five years in prison. The case came in response to multiple complaints filed by hard-line Islamists and threatens to do lasting damage to Indonesia’s democracy. It has also focused attention on the country’s blasphemy laws.

The laws date back to 1965. In keeping with its founding principles, which include belief in God, Indonesia criminalises any “deviation” from six officially recognised religions, as well as acts or words deemed “hostile” to God, without stating which one. During the 32-year rule of Suharto, Indonesia’s late strongman, the laws were rarely invoked. But since the country’s transformation into a vibrant free-speaking democracy after Suharto’s ouster in 1998, they have been used more frequently. Amnesty International, a human-rights group, counts at least 106 convictions since 2005. Often they target religious minorities, including Muslim minorities such the Ahmadiyya, as well as those who have no religious faith at all. One recent case, in 2012, saw a 30-year-old civil servant jailed for two-and-a-half years for declaring himself an atheist on Facebook.

The use of blasphemy laws is linked to rising religious intolerance. In recent years hard-line Islamists have become increasingly assertive, railing against deviants, heretics and their ilk. Muslim parties in parliament have pushed laws against alcohol, pornography and sexual minorities. Yet it is not at all clear that these moves have widespread support. Most Indonesians still vote for secular parties (they claimed 68% of the popular vote at the most recent legislative elections, in 2014) rather than religious ones. Many moderate Muslim leaders defend blasphemy laws on the grounds that they prevent violence by allowing religious disputes to be settled by the courts rather than vigilantes. However, moderates also blame politicians for misusing the laws to stir up sectarian tensions for their own ends. Ahok’s political rivals, for example, are seeking to use the laws to spoil his chances of becoming governor again in elections next year. 

Whether for political or religious reasons, Indonesia’s use of blasphemy laws against Ahok (who also happens to be of Chinese descent) and against minorities more widely poses a serious challenge to its traditional tolerance. Ahok’s rise to one of the country’s most prominent political posts and his lead in the upcoming elections had come to be seen as proof that Indonesians could not be swayed by sectarian arguments. Indonesia’s democracy has already been damaged by the sight of a double minority being hounded by fanatics. Were Ahok to be convicted, the damage would be far worse.

Source: economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/11/economist-explains-15

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-tolerance/the-economist/indonesia’s-blasphemy-laws/d/109191





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