Indonesia, the country with the most Muslims in the world, recently voted to expand its blasphemy laws. In 2019, the government announced that it would be revising the criminal code. While many were hopeful that the blasphemy laws would be done away with entirely, the reverse quickly proved to be true: The government is ready to implement five new blasphemy laws.
Ranked at No. 28 on the World Watch List, Indonesia is already a difficult place to live for many Christians. While the new blasphemy laws do not single out Christians for persecution, they are used almost exclusively to prosecute non-Muslims.
“While the blasphemy legislation is intended to ‘protect’ all recognized religions, including Christians, the reality is that in a country where just under 80% percent of the population is Muslim, it is often Muslims who will call on this law,” said Thomas Muller, persecution analyst with Open Doors World Watch Research.
Human Rights Watch reports that, since 1965, more than 150 people have been convicted of blasphemy in Indonesia, the majority of whom were non-Muslims. With additional laws in place, this number could rise in the coming years.
The laws are used for a wide range of alleged crimes, with a possible sentence of five years and a permanent stain on a convicted person’s record. Blasphemy laws carry a weight that should not be associated with the alleged crime.
“A month ago, a rather successful chain named Holywings ran a marketing campaign that went very wrong,” said Muller. “They offered all guests named ‘Mohammed’ or ‘Maria’ a free drink. Muslim organizations, but also the Catholic church, were not amused and the former filed a blasphemy case against the chain and six of its co-workers.”
Since 2020, Indonesia has seen multiple violent attacks against Christians, including a 2021 Palm Sunday bombing at a village cathedral. While these attacks were carried out by Islamic extremist groups, it is discouraging that many Christians must live in fear of both extremism and strict blasphemy laws.