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World News

Persecution watchdog concerned over strengthening of Indonesia’s anti-blasphemy laws

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian persecution watchdog has warned that Indonesia's revised criminal code strengthens the country's most controversial laws, including its laws against blasphemy.

International Christian Concern (ICC) said the criminal code’s chapter, Criminal Actions Against Religious Belief and Religious Life, raises concern for Indonesia’s vulnerable groups, including Christians.

The chapter aims to regulate Indonesia’s interfaith engagement, including modernisation of the anti-blasphemy laws, a provision bordering on the criminalization of proselytisation and apostasy, and a vague provision to protect houses of worship. 

Timothy Carothers, ICC’s advocacy manager for Southeast Asia said: “While there are components within the draft which could be taken favorably, we are more nervous for Christians and religious minorities in Indonesia who will be unfairly discriminated against with these updates.

“The Indonesian government has missed the mark on an opportunity to protect individual liberties, and has concerningly given updated tools for hardliners and activists to exploit in silencing opposing views and vulnerable people, including religious minorities, which we have continued to see across Indonesia.”

Among the new provisions are several which cause worse conditions for Christians and religious minorities. 

The code’s chapter makes up Articles 302 - 307. The first is Article 302’s modernization of its anti-blasphemy law which newly states, “Any person in public who: A.) commit acts of a hostile nature; B.) expresses hatred or hostility; or C.) incites hostility, violence, or discrimination, against religion, belief, other people, groups, or groups on the basis of religion or belief in Indonesia shall be punished with imprisonment of at most 5 (five) years or a maximum fine of category V.” 

The revision also strengthens the enforcement of the law. Article 303 expands over information technology platforms, including social media.

While anti-blasphemy laws are held by several countries around the world, predominantly Muslim-majority, many developing countries have seen growing demands to end their abusive violation of free speech. ICC said this revision makes Indonesia one of the few countries that is actively expanding its blasphemy laws.

Also, Article 304 criminalizes any person who intends to change another’s religion, or that they become irreligious, by means of public incitement or by threats. 

While the prevention of forced religious conversions is a rightful decision to protect vulnerable religious minorities, ICC said the government’s revision is hinging on the criminalisation of religious evangelism and opening the door to the criminalisation of apostasy.

The second part of the chapter specifies new crimes against houses of worship. However, ICC said its investigations show that laws are enforced selectively, discriminating unfairly against religious minorities.

The organisation said in a statement: “Many Christian communities would likely see these protections go unenforced, as there is no end in sight for the misguided community-consent IMB (building permit) permitting process of the 2006 Regulation on Houses of Worship. This fuels the protests and determines what is a house of worship and what is not, meaning that house churches, or any other church lacking the proper IMB, is vulnerable to attacks and disruptions going unaccounted for because the criminal code is unclear on what it could classify as a house of worship.”

The revised criminal code is expected to be passed before Indonesia’s Independence Day on 17th August.

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