Indonesia’s New Criminal Code Revealed, Modernizing the Controversial Anti-Blasphemy Laws | Persecution

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Indonesia’s New Criminal Code Revealed, Modernizing the Controversial Anti-Blasphemy Laws

The newest draft of the Indonesian Government’s Criminal Code Revision has been revealed, reinforcing its anti-blasphemy laws, and creating new provisions which will disproportionately impact Christians and other religious minorities.

07/13/2022 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) obtained the final draft of Indonesia’s revised criminal code. The revision strengthens the country’s most controversial laws, including its laws against blasphemy that devastate free speech and discriminate against Christians and religious minorities.  

The criminal code’s chapter, Criminal Actions Against Religious Belief and Religious Life, raises concern for Indonesia’s vulnerable groups, including Christians. The chapter seeks to regulate Indonesia’s interfaith engagement, including modernization of the anti-blasphemy laws, a provision bordering on the criminalization of proselytization and apostasy, and a vague provision to protect houses of worship.  

“While there are components within the draft which could be taken favorably, we are more nervous for Christians and religious minorities in Indonesia who will be unfairly discriminated against with these updates,” said Timothy Carothers, ICC’s Advocacy Manager for Southeast Asia. “The Indonesian government has missed the mark on an opportunity to protect individual liberties, and has concerningly given updated tools for hardliners and activists to exploit in silencing opposing views and vulnerable people, including religious minorities, which we have continued to see across Indonesia.” 

Among the new provisions are several which propagate worse conditions for Christians and religious minorities.  

The code’s chapter makes up Articles 302 – 307. The first is Article 302’s modernization of its anti-blasphemy law which newly states, “Any person in public who: A.) commit acts of a hostile nature; B.) expresses hatred or hostility; or C.) incites hostility, violence, or discrimination, against religion, belief, other people, groups, or groups on the basis of religion or belief in Indonesia shall be punished with imprisonment of at most 5 (five) years or a maximum fine of category V.”  

In addition, this revision also strengthens the enforcement of this law. Article 303 explicitly expands over information technology platforms, including social media. 

While anti-blasphemy laws are held by several countries around the world, predominantly Muslim-majority, many developing countries have seen growing demands to end their abusive violation of free speech. This revision makes Indonesia one of the few, if not only, countries that is actively expanding their blasphemy laws. 

To add to the concern, Article 304 criminalizes any person who intends to change another’s religion, or that they become irreligious, by means of public incitement or by threats.  

While the prevention of forced religious conversions is a rightful decision to protect vulnerable religious minorities, the government’s revision is hinging on the criminalization of religious evangelism and opening the door to the criminalization of apostasy—both dangerous avenues in a modernizing and religiously diverse country. 

The second part of the chapter stipulates new crimes against houses of worship. As ICC has seen several Christian churches and religious minority houses of worship forced to close by intolerant mobs, it’s possible this addition could be taken favorably.  

However, ICC’s investigations show that laws are enforced selectively, discriminating unfairly against religious minorities. Many Christian communities would likely see these protections go unenforced, as there is no end in sight for the misguided community-consent IMB (building permit) permitting process of the 2006 Regulation on Houses of Worship. This fuels the protests and determines what is a “house of worship” and what is not, meaning that house churches, or any other church lacking the proper IMB, is vulnerable to attacks and disruptions going unaccounted for because the criminal code is unclear on what it could classify as a “house of worship.” 

The Indonesian government announced the upcoming revision, the latest since 2019. With many of the draft’s provisions being controversial, the Indonesian government remained silent throughout the pandemic about its progress, keeping both Indonesians and international observers in the dark.  

The revised criminal code is expected to be passed by the sitting government before Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17. 

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