Thursday, October 31, 2019

Indonesia to Expand Abusive Blasphemy Law

Revoke New Provisions Violating Basic Rights

By Andreas Harsono

Muslim protesters display flags with Arabic writings that read: "There's no God but Allah and  Muhammad is his messenger" during a rally in Jakarta, Oct. 26, 2018.  © AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim

Indonesia is set to expand its abusive blasphemy laws as part of an overhaul of the country’s Criminal Code.

In September President Joko Widodo ordered parliament to postpone voting on the draft Criminal Code to allow more time for review. While that raised hopes the six new blasphemy provisions would be revised, it’s clear the review won’t include them.

Indonesian officials argued that expanding the blasphemy law from one provision to six, articles 304 to 309, will clarify the elements of the crime. These elements include defaming a religion, persuading someone to be a non-believer, disturbing a religious ritual or making noise near a house of worship, and insulting a cleric while leading a ritual. These four articles violate the right to freedom of religion or expression and, like the current blasphemy law, will be used to discriminate against religious minorities.

Two other articles deal with stealing religious artifacts and damaging a house of worship, provisions that are unnecessary since stealing and damaging property are already criminal offenses.

The new provisions are also discriminatory in that they only cover the six officially recognized religions in Indonesia: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Hundreds of other local religions and beliefs are excluded.

Past misuse of the blasphemy law shows that expanding the law is not the answer. More than 150 people, mostly religious minorities, have been convicted under the blasphemy law since it was passed in 1965. It is most commonly used against people who are deemed to have criticized Islam, as opposed to other religions.

These include former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, who was sentenced to two years in prison on blasphemy charges in 2017 after a politically motivated smear campaign.

In 2016, a Buddhist woman, Meliana, complained about the volume of the call to prayer from a neighboring mosque in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra. Her private request prompted Muslim mobs to attack her house, and burn and ransack 14 Buddhist temples. Meliana was convicted and imprisoned for blasphemy against Islam. Ahok and Meliana would still be liable for prosecution under the revised offenses.

Indonesia’s new Criminal Code provides an important and long-awaited opportunity to modernize the country’s penal laws and ensure they meet international human rights standards. Many revisions are still needed, but it should be clear that revoking the much-abused blasphemy law is crucial to achieving that goal.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Indonesian Woman Tried for Blasphemy Over Mosque Incident

Suzethe Margaret Brings Dog and Faces 5 Years in Prison

By Andreas Harsono
Human Rights Watch

An Indonesian woman with a psychosocial disability faces up to five years in prison for an altercation at a mosque, the latest victim of Indonesia’s toxic “blasphemy” law.

This week, witnesses testified in court that defendant Suzethe Margaret, a Christian woman living in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, brought a small dog into a neighborhood mosque, looking for her husband. Margaret accused the mosque of converting him to Islam to marry another woman. She was wearing her shoes and kicked a mosque guard when asked to leave.

Judges ordered the trial closed to the public because the defendant has a psychosocial disability. Margaret has paranoid schizophrenia, according to a psychiatric examination at two hospitals in Jakarta in 2013.

Indonesia’s criminal code article 44 states that a person who commits a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held criminally liable. But the law allows for that individual to “be placed in a lunatic asylum” for up to one year. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report documented a range of abuses in psychiatric hospitals in Indonesia, including involuntary treatment, seclusion, and high risk of sexual harassment and violence.

Margaret is charged with committing blasphemy against Islam. Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council, said Margaret’s act of “bringing a dog into a mosque was obviously blasphemous.

Margaret is one of several people facing blasphemy charges. In March, a Serang court 
sentenced Aisyah Tusalamah – who believes herself to be a reincarnation of a mythological “Queen of the South Sea” and has a perceived mental health condition – to five months in prison for posting an allegedly blasphemous video. In July, police charged Eka Trisusanti Toding, a teacher in Palopo, South Sulawesi, also with psychological record, with blasphemy after posting allegedly blasphemous comments on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is revising its criminal code to expand the 1965 blasphemy law from one to six articles. This would include increasing “the elements of the crime” to include defaming religious artifacts, making noise near a house of worship, persuading someone to be an atheist, and defaming a cleric while in service.

These cases show how Indonesia’s blasphemy law is easily abused. The government should revoke the law instead of expanding it and drop the cases against those charged.