The Indonesian police should immediately drop the criminal investigation into Jakarta’s governor for alleged blasphemy, Amnesty International said today.
The organization’s call came as the Indonesian police named Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Governor of Jakarta better known as ‘Ahok’, as a suspect in a blasphemy complaint filed by some religious groups. Ahok, a Christian, is the first member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese community to be elected Governor of Jakarta.
“By carrying out a criminal investigation and naming Ahok as a suspect, the authorities have shown they are more worried about hard-line religious groups than respecting and protecting human rights for all,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Among the police, opinion is divided on whether the case should proceed, showing that the decision to open an investigation against Ahok is a controversial step.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, the Head of the Criminal Investigation Department of the National Police Headquarters, Comr. General Ari Dono said, “Although there are different opinions among police investigators most agreed that the case should be settled in an open trial.”
This case would set a deeply worrying precedent, making it hard for the authorities to argue that they respect all faithsRafendi Djamin, Amnesty International's Director for South East Asia and the Pacific
The announcement of the police investigation comes after more than 100,000 people demonstrated against Ahok earlier this month, calling on the police to charge him with defamation of Islam. They also called for voters to not re-elect him next year for these purported comments.
Ahok has denied making any defamatory remarks. He is currently barred from leaving the country and could face up to five years in prison if he is ultimately charged and convicted.
The police have acknowledged that a video featuring Ahok had been edited by a social media user to make it appear that he was criticising the Quran. The video went viral after hard line groups seized on the edited version and promoted it on social media.
“Indonesia prides itself on its image as a tolerant country. This case would set a deeply worrying precedent, making it hard for the authorities to argue that they respect all faiths. It also highlights the urgent need to repeal Indonesia’s blasphemy laws which have often been used to target people who belong to minority religions, faiths and opinions,” said Rafendi Djamin.
Ahok has been named as a suspect under Article 156(a) of the Indonesia’s Criminal Code and Article 28(2) of Law No. 11/2008 on Electronic Information and Transaction.
In his actual comments, Ahok said: “So it can be that in your subconscious that you, ladies and gentlemen, you can’t vote for me because you’ve been lied to, with Surat Almaidah 51 and the like. That’s your right. If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell, because you’ve been lied to, no worries. That’s your personal call.”
Under Law Number 1/PNPS/1965 on the Prevention of “Religious Abuse and/or Defamation”, commonly known in Indonesia as the blasphemy law (Undang-Undang Penodaan Agama) people may be imprisoned for “defamation” for as long as five years simply because they have peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression or to freedom of thought, conscience or religion, which are protected under international human rights law.
“Incitement” provisions in Law No. 11/2008 on Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) has been used to criminalize peaceful expression. Both of these laws have been used to target individuals who belong to minority religions, faiths and opinions, and particularly those who adhere to interpretations of Islam that are different from the mainstream form of Islam in Indonesia.
Concerns surrounding freedom of religion in Indonesia have long been raised widely both within the country and internationally. Blasphemy laws such as those above are fundamentally incompatible with Indonesia’s obligations under international human rights law. Specifically, the laws violate legally binding provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a state party, on freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, equality before the law and freedom from discrimination.
Although the blasphemy law (Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965) and Article 156(a) of the Criminal Code were enacted in 1965, they were used to prosecute only around 10 individuals between 1965 and 1998, when former President Suharto was in power during which time the right to freedom of expression was severely curtailed. Between 2005 and 2014 Amnesty International has recorded at least 106 individuals who have been prosecuted and convicted under blasphemy laws.