Indonesian ‘Blasphemy Law a Weapon for Radical Islam
Although the blasphemy law is barely used in this ‘moderate’ nation, its use is expected to grow as radical Muslims become more vocal. Recently, on Feb. 6, Muslim hardliners armed with machetes brutally murdered three members of a “blasphemous” Muslim sect in the village of Cikeusik, West Java. Five other members escaped with severe injuries; police were present but did not intervene. Then, on Feb. 8, a large mob gathered outside a courthouse in Temanggung, Central Java, chanting “Kill, kill!” after judges awarded Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Roman Catholic, the maximum five-year sentence for blasphemy. By nightfall some 1,000 people had rampaged through the town burning vehicles, two churches and a church-run school, injuring nine people in the process.
These events provide a snapshot of the rising fanaticism in Indonesia. “The real root of the country’s religious intolerance is the 1965 Blasphemy Law,” wrote Armando Siahaan in a recent Jakarta Globe report. Many observers agree that the 1965 law and associated legislation, coupled with a lack of political will to curb hard-line groups, are to blame for the steep climb in religious violence.
Article 156(A) is based on Law No. 1/1965, more commonly known as Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law and stipulates up to five years in prison for anyone who publicly shows “enmity” or “abuses or stains” a religion adhered to in Indonesia, or prevents other people from adhering to such a religion. The law officially recognizes six religions; Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. In Indonesia every citizen must choose one of the six official religions and display it on his or her identity card. Atheism or adherence to an unrecognized religion is simply not an option.
In 2005 in Indramayu, West Java, three Christian teachers were charged and sentenced to three years in jail after allowing Muslim children to attend a Sunday school program with spoken consent from their parents. Busloads of Muslim hardliners chanting “Allahu Akhbar [God is greater]” surrounded and filled the courtroom, threatening to carry the teachers out in coffins if they were not found guilty.
In April 2007, 41 members of the Indonesian Students Service Agency were arrested and charged with blasphemy under Article 156(A). The court sentenced all 41 defendants to the maximum five years in prison in September 2007, although they were granted a reprieve in August 2008, according to The Jakarta Post.
In December 2008, a student claimed that his Christian teacher, Welhelmina Holle, had insulted Islam. When the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI or Indonesian Clerics Council) filed a complaint with police, a mob of at least 300 protestors gathered outside the local regent’s office; a riot broke out, with the mob burning dozens of homes, a church and a village hall. Military and riot police eventually stopped the violence, but Holle was detained, found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to a year in prison.
In 2010, the Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Islamic Defenders Front) and a new group, the Bekasi Islamic Presidium, launched a campaign against “Christianization” in West Java, accusing local churches of aggressively trying to win Muslim converts. “The FPI have established fear in so many hearts, including the courts and the government,” a local Christian leader who requested anonymity told Compass. “Also, this is Indonesia – justice depends on who is bringing someone to court and who they know. And in religious cases, the radicals pressure the judges and let them know when they’re not happy with a verdict.”
Father, we pray for Christians in Indonesia who are being falsely accused of blasphemy, and ask that You would bring favor to their cases. Thank You that Christianity is recognized as an approved religion, and we pray that radicals of other religions would not be constantly pressing hard against Christians. Please help Indonesian Christians to trust You no matter the cost, and to never be ashamed of the Gospel. Amen