Indonesian religious ministry to propose tougher blasphemy laws

Islam is taken to mean Sunni Islam – in contrast to Shia, Ahmadi or other interpretations of the faith – leading to crackdowns against minority sects in recent years.

Just last month during Ramadan, authorities in Depok, West Java shuttered an Ahmadi mosque to prevent adherents from worshipping there.

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Indonesia is one of the most religious countries on the planet. A massive 95 percent of its population claimed religion is “very important” in a Pew Research poll from 2015, compared with 80 percent of Indians and 19 percent in South Korea.

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The country’s centuries-long tradition of largely peaceful religious co-existence, interfaith dialogue and syncretism has, however, increasingly come under attack since the fall of former dictator Suharto. Thousands of Indonesians have died in inter-religious violence in Maluku, Borneo and Java since 1998.

The political freedom granted to hardline Islamist groups during Indonesia’s transition to democracy, coupled with the growing influence of fundamentalist Salafi schools of Islam, has spurred sectarian violence and the persecution of minority groups across the archipelago.

INDONESIA’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is preparing revisions to the country’s so-called Religious Rights Protection Bill that would significantly expand the definition of blasphemy and allow harsher punishments for the crime of insulting religion.

A major change to the law would be a broadened classification of the offence of blasphemy – which is currently “showing hostility, abuse, or desecration” towards a faith, its scriptures or institutions – to seven different kinds of blasphemy with varying periods of imprisonment from six months to five years.

Releasing an unofficial translation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims that the Religious Rights bill will simply further jeopardise minority rights in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The group says parliament is expected to be presented the bill before the end of 2017.


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