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Indonesia Upholds Controversial Blasphemy Law

ICC Note: Law punishing “Blasphemy” against Islam reinstated, any perceived offenses against Islam again punishable

by Peter Gelling

4/19/10 Indonesia (NYTimes) — After months of hearings and protests from both sides, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled Monday that a 45-year-old law banning religious blasphemy was constitutional and would remain on the books.

The 1965 decree allows the attorney general’s office to ban religious groups that “distort” or “misrepresent” official faiths and calls for up to five years in prison for anyone found guilty of heresy.

The law also limits the number of officially recognized religions in Indonesia to six: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. In practice, the law is applied primarily to perceived offenses against mainstream Islam. Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people are Muslims.

Several fundamentalist Islamic groups, which had gathered during previous hearings since the court took up the case in November, rallied outside the courthouse again Monday as 600 riot police officers looked on.

Members of the Islamic Defender’s Front, a militant group that has attacked religious pluralism rallies in the past, attacked lawyers seeking to repeal the law during the court’s final hearing last week.

The court’s chief justice, Mohammad Mahfud, said in the 8-to-1 decision that the law did not contradict the country’s 1945 Constitution or its national ideology, known as Pancasila, even though both nominally guarantee freedom of religion.

The judicial review was first sought by a coalition of human rights groups led by the Wahid Institute, an organization founded by Indonesia’s late president, Abdurrahman Wahid, that campaigns for religious pluralism.

“This is a setback for Indonesian democracy,” said Uli Parulian Sihombing, a human rights lawyer and part of the team that filed the constitutional challenge. Mr. Sihombing said that under Indonesian law there was no appeal process for constitutional challenges.

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