The draft bill, which would regulate religious sermons and segregate graves within public cemeteries according to religion, is seen by some as a potentially giant fan that would spread the growing flame of religious intolerance that has sparked violent conflicts across the nation over the past three years.
The bill does not propose an alternative regulation to the current problematic house of worship licensing system that majority groups have used to make it difficult for members of minority religions to congregate for religious prayers in several regions.
Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy head Hendardi said that if passed, the House-initiated bill would likely legitimize restrictions against minorities for the sake of harmony.
He questioned Article 1 Point 4, which defines blasphemy as any act or interpretation of a religion beyond the scope of that religion’s basic teachings.
“Religious harmony is impossible unless religious freedom for every citizen is guaranteed. Therefore, the state must punish all groups that attack this freedom,” he said.
“We need a bill to eliminate religious discrimination, rather than this sort of tolerance bill.”
“Thus, Setara urges the House of Representatives to bin the draft and arrange a new one based on plurality, equality and religious freedom.”
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim majority nation, and also a home to many religions and multi-ethnic groups, has been celebrated worldwide as a champion of cultural and religious pluralism.
However, teachings of the Islamic minority sect Ahmadiyah have been deemed heretical and blasphemous by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). Followers of the faith have been increasingly targeted in recent years by violent groups who have persuaded several local governments through intimidation and rallies to ban the sect “to maintain security in their regions”.
In February, three Ahmadis were murdered in a mob assault on their community compound in Cikeusik, Banten. The attackers were believed to be members of Islamic hard-line groups. Despite video evidence showing the perpetrators commit the crimes, only a handful were brought to court, where they were handed light sentences of several months each.
Setara recorded 50 separate attacks against Ahmadis in 2010.
The much criticized government licensing process for houses of worship is at the heart of an ongoing legal conflict that has stopped a Christian congregation from holding Sunday services in their own church in Bogor, West Java.
The Bogor administration has persisted on banning the GKI Taman Yasmin congregation’s members from conducting religious services in their church despite that the congregation has received permission to do so from the Supreme Court.
Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto recently filed a lawsuit against the church, alleging that the petition of local consent used by the congregation to gain approval to build the church contained forged signatures.
The Indonesian Ombudsman has issued a statement saying that Diani’s new evidence is not relevant because GKI Yasmin produced the signed petition in 2002, whereas the allegedly false petition was dated 2006.
“The bill is likely to nurture tyranny of the majority. We must know that there is no single majority group in Indonesia. The tyranny of the majority in a certain group might trigger vengeance toward it in the area where it is a minority,” said Catholic priest Benny Susetyo, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) inter-faith dialogue division.