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Indonesia: Freedom of religion not protected

ICC Note: Article goes through the case against Indonesia’s religious rights record

2/23/2010 Indonesia (AHRC) – U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Indonesia, the place of his childhood, in March. It is important that the President does not waste this opportunity and uses his good relations with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to raise the issue of religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Late last year Obama stated that “Indonesia is important… as one of the world’s largest democracies, as one of the world’s largest Islamic nations… it has enormous influence and really is… a potential model for the kind of development strategies, democracy strategies, as well as interfaith strategies that are going to be so important moving forward.”

Wile his statement is no doubt true in some respects, the essence of Obama’s remark is at odds with the current situation in Indonesia.

In recent years the United Nations has expressed disquiet at religious discrimination and intolerance in the country. There is continuing concern at the distinctions made in legal documents between the six recognized religions of Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, and the adverse impact on the freedom of thought, conscience and religion of people belonging to minorities, ethnic groups and indigenous peoples in Indonesia.

In 2007 the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted with concern that mixed-faith couples – in which the man and woman hold different recognized beliefs – faced difficulties in officially registering their marriages and that their children were not provided with birth certificates, as they were not the products of “lawful” marriage. Paradoxically, people that change their religion in order to marry their partner can face stigmatization.

Furthermore, there is no provision for individuals with no religious belief to enter into a civil marriage contract, and no legal documentation for those without such a belief. This results in people keeping their atheist beliefs secret and when the time comes to marry, they make the choice of either marrying in a religious ceremony that is devoid of meaning for them, or not marrying at all, which can leave their family and offspring without legal protection.

Moreover, under Indonesian Law No. 23 of 2006 on Civic Administration, individuals are required to record their faith on legal documents such as identity cards and birth certificates.

Atheists who ascribe to no religion or those who wish to leave the column blank or to register under one of the “non-recognized” religions face discrimination and harassment – including refusal of employment.

Forcing an Indonesian to adopt a religion as part of her identity grossly undermines his right to freedom of thought and religion under article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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