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Court upholds Blasphemy
Law

Thou shalt not review: Nine judges read out their verdict on Monday at the final hearing of a request for the Constitutional Court to review the controversial 1965 Law on Blasphemy. The court dismissed the request filed by human rights, democracy and pluralism groups as well as the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid. JP/Nurhayati

The Constitutional Court on Monday ruled to uphold the controversial Blasphemy Law, a decision that plaintiffs said was mainly based on fears of a public backlash.

With only one dissenting judge, the court argued that the law “is still needed to maintain public order among religious groups”.

“If the Blasphemy Law was scrapped before a new law was enacted … it was feared that misuses and contempt of religion would occur and trigger conflicts in society,” Constitutional justice Akil Mochtar said.

“This law is very important ... to prevent both horizontal and vertical conflicts from occurring,” another judge said.

The dissenting opinion came from justice Maria Farida Indrati, who said the 1965 law had many shortcomings relating to the fundamental amendments on human rights in the Constitution.

“With the many problems that have often triggered arbitrary actions in the implementation of this law … I think that the petition should have been granted,” she said.

Maria was also the only judge that took an opposing stance in a previous court ruling on the pornography law.

In many instances, minority Islamic sects have been targets of harassment, violence and expulsion from their communities.

A plaintiff, Poengky Indarti of Imparsial (The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor), said “the dictatorship of the majority has contributed [to the decision].”

“It is very disappointing that the Constitutional Court, which is supposed to be the guardian of the constitution, is not doing its job well,” she said.

Petitioners, comprising human rights groups and self-proclaimed backers of pluralism, filed for the judicial review request of the law last October.

The court has since heard the views of 49 experts in 12 hearings.

The verdict reading Monday invoked a cry of joy in the courtroom, with dozens of supporters from various Islamic groups shouting “Allahu Akbar! [Allah is great]” the moment presiding judge Mahfud MD declared the petition was turned down.

The groups had rallied in front of the court’s building during each hearing.

During the final hearing last month, members of the Islam Defenders’ Front clashed with a hearing attendee and members of the team of lawyers for the petitioners.

After Monday’s hearing, a lawyer for the petitioners, M. Choirul Anam, said the court “would be held responsible if religious clashes grew even bigger after it decided to uphold the law that was the root of such conflicts”.

“The court does not believe that our society has a wiser mechanism to deal with possible conflicts,” he added.

The panel of judges said it had decided to take a “middle course” as suggested by a court expert, noted scholar Jalaludin Rakhmat, to give an official interpretation of the law without repealing it.

This interpretation includes giving new meaning to the explanation of Article 1 in the law, which states that aside from acknowledging six religions, the state “leaves alone” followers of other religions.

“The phrase ‘leaves alone’ has to be interpreted as [their followers not being] obstructed and even given the right to flourish and thrive; it cannot be interpreted as ‘ignored’,” judge Muhammad Alim said.

The judges said the law was imperfect and that they could understand requests to revise the 45-year-old law.

The state recognizes Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

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