Indonesia: Surge in blasphemy convictions - New Report

  • More than 100 cases of blasphemy convictions in last decade
  • Whistling during prayers, posting on Facebook among offences carrying up to 5 years

The Indonesian authorities have increasingly made use of a range of oppressive blasphemy laws to imprison individuals for their beliefs, contributing to an intensifying climate of intolerance in the country, Amnesty International said of the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, in a new briefing today.

Prosecuting Beliefs shows that the number of blasphemy convictions skyrocketed during former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s decade in power (2004-2014). Since 2004, Amnesty documented the cases of at least 106 individuals convicted under various blasphemy laws, some imprisoned for up to five years. Many of those convicted are perceived as holding minority religious views and beliefs and were charged for nothing more than whistling while praying, posting their opinions on Facebook or saying they had received a “revelation from God”.

Although Indonesia’s blasphemy law has been on the books since 1965 it was rarely used until President Yudhoyono took power.

Blasphemy cases are mostly lodged at the local level, where politicians, hard-line Islamist religious groups and the security forces often collude to target minorities.

An accusation or rumour is sometimes enough to land a person in court on blasphemy charges. Many individuals are harassed or attacked by hard-line groups before their arrest, and tried in court in an intimidating atmosphere. The convictions are often justified on the basis of “maintaining public order.

The surge in blasphemy prosecutions should be seen in a wider context in which respect for freedom of religion has deteriorated. Over the past decade, minority groups have increasingly been targeted in mob violence or other attacks, with perpetrators rarely held to account in the country.

The blasphemy law has inspired a number of more recent laws that authorities use to clamp down on religious freedom. Indonesia’s law governing information on the internet (ITE Law) has, for example, been used to target people for “blasphemous” content posted on social media networks.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s South East Asia and Pacific Research Director, said:

“We’ve documented more than 100 individuals who have been jailed for nothing but peacefully expressing their beliefs – they are all prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.

“No one should have to live in fear of simply expressing their religious opinions and beliefs.

“The shrinking space for religious freedom in Indonesia over the past decade is deeply worrying. The new government under President Widodo has an opportunity to turn the page on this issue – this can’t be missed.”

Cases

Shi’a teacher - four years

Tajul Muluk ran a religious boarding school in his home village of Sampang, when in 2006 local Sunni Muslim leaders began opposing his teachings as “deviant”. In December 2011, hundreds of Shi’a villagers were driven from their homes in a mob attack. In March 2012, the local police launched a blasphemy case against Tajul Muluk, and he was sentenced to two years in prison, later extended to four years.

He remains in detention and most of his evicted Shi’a community have been barred from returning to their homes, with the government citing safety concerns, but doing little to provide a solution.

Civil servant - two-and-half-years for Facebook post

Alexander An, a 30-year old civil servant, was in June 2012 sentenced to two-and-half-years in prison for a post he had made on a local atheist group’s Facebook page earlier that year. Before his conviction, he had to be given police protection after an angry crowd showed up at his work place and threatened to beat him.

 

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