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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Insulting Islam a Crime in Indonesia

Original article here.

Indonesia blasphemy verdict 'threatens religious minority'

4:00 AM Wednesday Apr 21, 2010

JAKARTA - A decision by Indonesia's constitutional court to uphold a controversial blasphemy law has dealt a severe blow to religious freedom in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, a rights group said yesterday.

The court ruled that the 1965 law, which allows for criminal penalties and bans on people or groups that "distort" the central tenets of six recognised religions, was in line with the constitution and vital to religious harmony.

The law was challenged by a coalition of rights groups and civil society organisations who consider it discriminatory. But it is supported by religious conservatives, including the radical Islamic Defenders Front, which had gathered at the court and threatened to protest if the judges didn't uphold it.

Although the law recognises the standard forms of Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, rights activists say it discriminates against minority religions, including Muslims whose beliefs differ from the mainstream.

Most of Indonesia's 235 million people are moderate Sunni Muslims.

Opponents say the law, which carries penalties of up to five years in jail, should be struck down because it limits religious freedom - which is constitutionally protected in this secular country.

The court rejected those concerns in its 8-1 decision. The majority said the law was in place to protect all religions from desecration and to ensure religious harmony between faiths.

"The law should be upheld because if it is annulled ... Islam and the Koran could be interpreted at will and people and figures could declare new prophets and establish new religions," Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali said ahead of the ruling.

Critics say the law is vague, allowing authorities to interpret and enforce it how they choose. It has largely been used against those seen as offending mainstream Islam.

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that the court decision "poses a real threat to the beliefs of Indonesia's religious minorities".
- AP

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