Heresy Law Challenge

Feb 9th, 2010, in News, by

Constitutional Court hears case on free interpretation of religions, a human right or recipe for anarchy.

Challenge & Supporters

The Constitutional Court on February 4th began hearing a challenge against presidential order 1/PNPS of 1965, and by extension against its later formalising into legislation in the form of UU Nomor 5 (tentang Pencegahan Penyalahgunaan dan Penodaan Agama), 1969, which outlaws free interpretation, and therefore perceived subversion, of any of the official religions of Indonesia, which are Islam, the Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.


The first day gallery.

Specifically what is contested are Articles 1 to 4, the first of which states:

It is forbidden for anyone deliberately and in public to do, encourage anyone to do, or attempt to gather support for doing, the [free or unorthodox] interpretation of any religion followed in Indonesia, or to carry out religious activities that [falsely] resemble any of those religions.

While Articles 2, 3, and 4 set out what measures the government can take to encourage individuals and groups in violation of the law to cease their activities, and then punish and ban those who refuse guidance. These aspects of the law were most recently (partially) applied against the Ahmadiyah sect in early to mid 2008.

No challenge is being made against any part of law which deals with the ordinary insulting of religion or the incitement of sectarian hatred, which is dealt separately in the criminal code.

The petition was made in mid November 2009, initially rejected by the court but later allowed to proceed, by now deceased former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, and liberal Muslim figures Siti Musdah Mulia, economist Dawam Rahardjo, and head of Al-Mizan Islamic boarding school in Majalengka, West Java Maman Imanul Haq, who claim the blasphemy legislation violates the Basic Law of 1945, which guarantees freedom of religion, pointing out that it is often heretical or unorthodox Muslim and pseudo Muslim religious groups who are prosecuted under it, such as Ahmadiyah.

Others who are expected to come before the court in support of the petition include Muhammadiyah figure Ahmad Syafii Maarif, Catholic priest Franz Magnis Suseno, writer Luthfi Assyaukanie and via teleconference Cole Durham, a professor of law at Brigham Young University in USA, who is a specialist in international religious freedom law.

Supporting organisations include the People's Initiative for Transitional Justice (IMPARSIAL), People's Study and Advocating Institution (ELSAM), United Groups of Legal and Human Rights Aid (Perhimpunan Bantuan Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia Indonesia, PBHI), United Study Centres for Human Rights and Democracy (Demos), Setara People's Union (Perkumpulan Masyarakat Setara), Desantara Foundation, Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia, YLBHI), all under the umbrella organisation Aliansi Kebangsaan untuk Kebebasan Beragama dan Berkeyakinan (AKKBB).

A lawyer for the petitioners, Uli Parulian Sihombing, who is also head of the Indonesia Legal Resources Center (ILRC), said the prohibition on varying interpretations of religious texts and traditions violates the rights of freedom of thought and expression as outlined in Article 28I paragraph (2) of the Constitution, UUD 1945. antara

Other complaints voiced against the law are that it unduly privileges the six recognised faiths, while traditional and animist beliefs, as well as other religions, are left without protection.

Status Quo Defenders

Those leading the charge against the challenge include the government via the Department of Religion, Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Majelis Tinggi Agama Konghucu (Matakin), (to some extent) the Indonesian Churches Association (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia, PGI), and a string of minor Islamic groups such as Aisyiah, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), and the Muslim Defence Team (Tim Pembela Muslim, TPM), among many others.

Minister of Religion Suryadharma Ali warned recently that any annulment of the law would cause chaos: antara

If blasphemy against religion is not dealt with in law there could be a lot of trouble in society, horizontal conflict and the disintegration of the nation.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leader Hasyim Muzadi spoke on a similar theme: antara

If there is no law on the matter [and people make new religions however they please] then the people won't stay quiet, there will be anarchy. The law provides a brake on things.

Meanwhile militant groups have begun staging demonstrations over the issue, like in Yogyakarta on February 9th, where a few dozen people described as 'campus activists' protested outside the Departemen Agama building. l6

penodaan agama
Yogyakarta protest

Mahendradatta of the TPM said, in an obliquely threatening way or not: thejakartapost

Thousands of Muslims are apprehensive about the review. They may be curious and want to attend the hearings

Hearings & 'Experts'

The court itself is expected to call the following people to give expert or neutral testimony on the issue: sociology professors Thamrin Amal Tamagola and Imam Prasodjo, poet Emha Ainun Nadjib, the writer of the book "Laskar Pelangi" Andrea Hirata, filmmaker Garin Nugroho, Justice Jimly Ashiddiqqie, former Justice minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra, writer Taufik Ismail, a founder of the Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) Musthofa Bisri (Gus Mus), scholar Azyumardi Azra, and former foreign minister Alwi Shihab.

Hearings are likely to go on for many months and Constitutional Court head Mahfud M.D says special arrangements have been made to extend court sitting days to handle the case.


In an 8-1 decision on April 19th 2010 the Court threw out the challenge and upheld the current law, arguing that no existing other law was violated by the heresy law.


26 Comments on “Heresy Law Challenge”

  1. avatar Burung Koel says:

    As an atheist, I always consider blasphemy to be a victimless crime.

  2. avatar Ross says:

    The NU leader is a disgrace.
    So people want to start a new religon, and some others ‘ won’t stay quiet.’
    Big Deal.
    They can yammer all they want, but if they try thuggery to preserve their suppression of dissent, let the cops do something useful and arrest them. The footie stadium in Surabay could be used to hold all the crackers, FPI, HT, Muslim lawyers’ liberation front and anybody else who thinks they have the right to interfere with fellow-citizens; right to worship.

    Then take them to court, require assurances of good behaviour, bind them over for a few years. First time they step out of line, pick ’em up and send them down.
    The leaderships of these Islamonazi outfits are gutless, and would not be happy to risk time in a ‘sel non-mewah.’
    Peace in our time. Just a suggestion.

  3. avatar Odinius says:

    Won’t actually happen, but I appreciate the effort.

    Indonesian democracy is certainly an improvement over what came before, but it’s still far too paternalist.

  4. avatar David says:

    I’d always thought the blasphemy law was the one in the criminal code where it’s basically you can’t say bad things about a religion, I guess plenty of countries have a law like that even if it’s not enforced that much or at all but this is almost astonishing

    It is forbidden for anyone deliberately and in public to do, encourage anyone to do, or attempt to gather support for doing, the [free or unorthodox] interpretation of any religion followed in Indonesia, or to carry out religious activities that [falsely] resemble any of those religions.

    But yes it will go nowhere, one of the justices already echoed what NU and others say

    Meanwhile, according to Constitutional Justice Achmad Sodiki, should the Article 1 be annulled, “If someone spoke in public about something which was contrary to religious dogmas then there was chaos. How would we settle this with the inexistence of the article?” asked Sodiki hypothetically.

    http://www.mahkamahkonstitusi.go.id/index.php?page=website_eng.BeritaInternalLengkap&id=3479

  5. avatar Odinius says:

    Ireland just passed a new, more restrictive blasphemy law in 2009.

    I will give Indonesia credit for general even-handed in the use of the law, but the critics are right: it directly impinges upon freedom of religion, which is constitutionally guaranteed in Indonesia. Since independence, this has been far more “theory, not practice.” The critics are trying to make it practical too. They won’t win, but I laud the efforts.

  6. avatar David says:

    Ireland just passed a new, more restrictive blasphemy law in 2009.

    Yeah I had that in the back of my head doing this post but this is more like a heresy law than a blasphemy one.

    I will give Indonesia credit for general even-handed in the use of the law

    I think it’s more a matter of the minorities just rarely making a complaint, whereas some of the loudmouth Muslim groups will jump to it quick smart. I mentioned it before but there’s an independent Catholic church in surabaya, I’m not exactly sure if they use the word ‘Catholic’ in their name but if they do then the official church would definitely have a case under this law if they went to the police but it seems they just decided to ignore the matter.

  7. avatar Burung Koel says:

    The Irish blasphemy legislation defines it as:

    “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted”.

    I guess you could take anything to court on the basis of ‘grossly’, and ‘some defences permitted’. Some atheists are already testing it out. Worth linking to the Bjork quote – “Fuck the Buddhists!” The European Court of Human rights might eventually have a say in it, too.

    Patung’s right in that the Indonesian law is really about protecting organised religion. Stamping out heresies is part and parcel of how the major religions got where they are today, and consolidated their power and wealth.

    The only upside for Indonesia is that Scientologists will still be banned.

  8. avatar ET says:

    I wonder what does it take for a set of superstitions to be elevated to the status of ‘Religion’. Is it a matter of numbers, power or money? Or all of it?

  9. avatar Odinius says:

    Patung said:

    I think it’s more a matter of the minorities just rarely making a complaint, whereas some of the loudmouth Muslim groups will jump to it quick smart. I mentioned it before but there’s an independent Catholic church in surabaya, I’m not exactly sure if they use the word ‘Catholic’ in their name but if they do then the official church would definitely have a case under this law if they went to the police but it seems they just decided to ignore the matter.

    That’s true, and for several reasons. First, minorities aren’t so bothered by stamping out heresy because they are more worried about making sure they can sustain their rights and privileges. Second, Catholicism is a centrally-controlled religion, where the center made the decision to liberalize in 1968, including on the issue of heresy. So, rather than it being up to the Catholics at the DA, it’s up to Rome, and Rome made an institutional decision to put anti-heretical campaigns behind it in 1968. Third, there is a concerted campaign in Indonesia by orthodox Muslims targeting non-orthodox Muslims, to try to ‘convert’ the non-orthodox to their version of orthodoxy. It’s akin to the Evangelical Protestant ‘mission’ to ‘convert the heathens,’ but is internally rather than externally focused.

    I brought up Ireland, and the even-handedness of the blasphemy law in Indonesia with specific regards to blasphemy. Thinking about the Tempo Last Supper cover, etc.

  10. avatar Burung Koel says:

    Rome made an institutional decision to put anti-heretical campaigns behind it in 1968.

    Ahem.

    http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,25018662-952,00.html

    That church in Surabaya probably needs to keep an eye out.

  11. avatar Odinius says:

    Okay…made a GENERAL point to do so.

    I forgot that my friend’s church (not in Indonesia) was excommunicated in the 90s for doing something or other…I think letting a woman lead prayers, but can’t remember.

  12. avatar boris says:

    friends. Here is an article lambasting the Blasphemy Laws.
    http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/02/11/blasphemy-law-a-shackle-indonesian-people.html

    If any of you are on facebook, please join the facebook group: “Hapuskan PNPS 1965”

  13. avatar Odinius says:

    From that editorial:

    A recent example is the case of Welhelmina Holle in Masohi, Central Maluku, in December 2008. There were accusations and rumors that Holle, an elementary school teacher, had been offensive about a religion in one of his lectures in class.

    As a result, a mob ran amok and destroyed 67 houses, a house of worship, and a community building. Hole was put on trial under the pretext of that law.

    It is the existence of the blasphemy law that ignites conflict. It does not maintain harmony and peace.

    Yes and no. It’s not the law that generates the conflict, but rather the understanding that the government should punish alleged blasphemers and not rioters. If the law went off the books, you wouldn’t see an end to this kind of misbehavior.

    The only way that changes is if the government finally gets earnest about going after rioters, no matter who they are or what the circumstances of their amok massa are…

  14. avatar Ross says:

    Yes, Odinius. I know I have railed about Lombok before, but the police there should be disbanded and reformed with respectable leadership. They have not rounded up the scum who mobbed Ahmadiyah despite having had video/ photographic evidence which clearly identifies many of thosewho took part.
    Similarly, the arrest, eventually, of a handful of FPI/Laskar thugs does not exculpate the police on the Pancasila Day outrage at Monas, who watched as helpless women and children were terrorised by, let’s be honest, terrorists.
    SBY would go down in history as the President who saved Indonesian democracy if he made a speech tomorrow and then acted to suppress islamist bigotry.

  15. avatar Ross says:

    Re excommunication.
    No problem with that. If a church or mosque refuses to let people take communion or attend Friday or other prayers etc., that’s their business, just as if a club has rules, they have the right to exclude members who don’t abide by them.
    For example, if the Pope says his priests have to be men and a Catholic bishop says he wants to ordain priestesses, then the bish should be told to go off and start a new church with that doctrine.
    That’s a far cry from burning the bishop’s house down and beating up the worshippers who fancy being led in worship by a lady in robes.

  16. avatar Odinius says:

    My problem with Indonesia’s democratic government–and not just SBY, but all of the post-1998 presidents–is a lack of spine in upholding the basic laws stipulating that citizens cannot engage in wholesale violence or destruction of property as a means of expressing political views.

    Like in many other places, the government and security forces think it’s best to just turn a blind eye and hope it all goes away. But that kind of leniency, particularly when there is also no attempt to build bridges among people on both sides, just demonstrates that rioting works.

    The best solution is the old carrot-and-stick approach…bring communities together to address the sources of discontent and diviseness, while identifying and prosecuting the riot captains.

  17. avatar Burung Koel says:

    (a)

    Re excommunication.
    No problem with that.

    (b)

    That’s a far cry from burning the bishop’s house down and beating up the worshippers who fancy being led in worship by a lady in robes.

    Clearly this thread is about what’s needed to avoid (a) leading to (b).

  18. avatar Ross says:

    If that’s the case, I’ve already offered the prescription. Effective police work to grab the (usually in this country Islamist) thugs, and courts who follow through with draconian punishments that will put the fear of God (!!) into the baddies..

  19. avatar ET says:

    Odinius said

    The best solution is the old carrot-and-stick approach…bring communities together to address the sources of discontent and diviseness, while identifying and prosecuting the riot captains.

    Theoretically yes, but how many attempts have already been made – and I don’t mean just in Indonesia – at inter-faith dialogue and what are the results? Democratic deliberation may work for political and economic issues but when it comes to ideology or religion everybody retreats into their trenches to save the the ‘soul of the child’, not to mention the position and privileges of those who believe it is their vocation to safeguard the morality of the nation.
    I think only economic prosperity may remove the sharp edges of religious dispute, like it has been the case in the West and East Asia, provided the competing ideologies limit themselves to spiritual matters and refrain from pursuing a political agenda.

  20. avatar Odinius says:

    Inter-faith dialog often works, as does inter-ethnic dialog. You just don’t read about the salacious results because they are, well, not salacious. They work when things are normal and boring. And, of course, the results are reversible, given the right structural conditions and the right set of a**holes leading the mobs. But then again, faith-hate and race-hate are also reversible, given the right set of structural conditions and the right set of good people calming down the mobs.

    The presence or lack of the stick is one of those essential structural conditions. Peacemaking only works when there is also a clear line drawn in the sand, and enough people simply won’t tolerate it. Modern states are supposed to have a monopoly on legitimate violence; when they let others take some of it, mob rule emerges.

    It’s like in the American South when the states would not go after lynch mobs, or like when India has failed to respond to its numerous riots (much more numerous and deadly than Indonesia’s). Regardless of place or time, the inaction of the state begets more extra-state violence by telling extra-state actors that violence works.

  21. avatar lewis says:

    Di dalam NEGARA MODERN yang dipentingkan adalah kesejahteraan masyarakat , pertumbuhan ekonomi dan keamanan negara. Kalau hukum di Indonesia hanya memihak ke-agama-an atau pernefaan pendapat tentang ke-agama-an itu tidak akan memberikan KEDAMAIAN masyarakat di luar atau masyarakat tamu yang tinggal di dalam negara. Dan akan menjadi pertanyaan besar, bagaimana reputasi Indonesia di luar negri?
    Saya berharap agar indonesia menjadi negara yang damai dan tidak mementingkan hukum yang memihak ke-agama-an.

  22. avatar hendrian says:

    It’s ridiculous to put religious party to hold an influencial power in politic. It’s also a fact that religious parties lack of seeing the current social fact and condition, they are held by their unchangeable doctrines. Refer to what Jusuf Kala said quran and bible were the only thing in the world that couldn’t be changed.
    Such an unnessecary policy to allow religious doctrine to control the new modern open society. It’s just make people born again blind and back to the stone age. What difference they have with the social control system of the communist, which ironically they annhiliated during mid 60’s.

  23. avatar Astrajingga says:

    So protestant should be banned in Indonesia, although it is one of Indonesian official religion? Isn’t Protestant, well, as far as I know, Martin Luther, taught peoples to personally or to freely interpret Jesus teaching and the Bible?

  24. avatar ronald says:

    free interpretation mustn’t be banned!!!!!

  25. avatar ZZZBRILJANT says:

    Freedom of religion or belief is a right for citizens to freely determine their religion and worship, as well as right to stand outside all communities.

    Freedom of religion can be seen either as a universal right, or as a matter between the state and the individual.

    The latter approach provides that the State is not entitled to the legislation or intervention, reduce the individual’s right to religion, with certain reservations.

    The former approach is that it is also a matter between individuals.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

    This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom alone or in community with others and in public or private, to religion or belief in worship, teaching, devotions and exercises observance of religious practices.

    Everyone’s freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, maintenance of public order, protection of health or morals or of other people’s rights and freedoms.

  26. avatar fabian says:

    I would prefer total freedom of religion, and also, freedo FROM religion

    I am agnostic, even if I have the hobbie of knowing about religions and mysticism

    And EVERY religion, at the beginning was a new religion, or a new interpretation of an old religion….and with time it becomes mainstream and respectable

    Something that I dont understand about Indonesia ,is why judaism is not one of the recognised religions….if jews are PEOPLE OF THE BOOK and precursors of both muslims and christians

    I like in Uruguay,Southamerica, a country without state religion but with total freedom of religion, and also a high percentage of atheist, agnostics and even people who believe in God but distrust organised religions…

    We even have mormons, hindu,afro brazilian cults,Bahai faith, and the famous cult leader Rev Sun Myung Moon used to live here many months per year….he has many properties here

    So, we have DOZENS of religions, and nobody runs around burning the temples of the other beliefs..

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