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Indonesia: Plaintiffs expect progressive ruling on blasphemy law

Monday 19 April 2010, by siawi2

Source: The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More than half of the experts presented by the Constitutional Court agree the blasphemy law is problematic, boosting plaintiffs’ confidence that a judicial review to contest the law will be successful.

The court has recently upset women’s rights activists and supporters of pluralism by rejecting a judicial review of the controversial pornography law, which they said could be used to criminalize women and artists.
The petitioners of the judicial review of the blasphemy law, however, believed the result of their endeavor would be less gloomy.
One of the plaintiffs, noted Muslim scholar and women’s rights activist Musdah Mulia, said she was “optimistic” the court would rule in favor of the petitioners.

“This is a new found awareness… on the law that applies in the country and [impinges] constitutional rights. It is unfortunate, though, that this awareness has only been felt by a small group [of intellectuals] but not people in general,” she told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

After 12 hearings, the court has seen a total of 49 experts take the stand, 16 of whom were appointed by the court. They are considered to be more neutral than experts presented by the petitioners and the government.
Eight, including noted Muslim intellectual Azyumardi Azra, Catholic priest FX Mudji Sutrisno and cultural observer and poet Taufik Ismail, asked for the controversial law to be revised. Many have criticized the ambiguity of the law’s definition of blasphemy.
Azyumardi said the revised law should “provide a clearer definition of what constitutes blasphemy”.

Five other experts, also presented by the court, recommended scrapping the law altogether. They include liberal Muslim scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla, reverend S.A.E Nababan and cultural observer and critically-acclaimed cinematographer Garin Nugroho.

Garin, the last expert to testify in the judicial review request, said the law has discouraged Indonesians from discussing religious issues.
“It is the biggest setback in the history of this nation in terms of democracy and its agenda for pluralism,” he added.

One expert, Djohan Effendy of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), said that the law “has claimed victims”.
Although he did not give his recommendation on whether to keep or scrap the law, he agreed with the plaintiff’s argument that “faith falls into God’s authority. The state and its apparatus should never interfere”.

Another court-appointed expert, anthropologist Ahmad Fedyani Saifuddin, recommended enacting new regulations to replace the 45-year-old Blasphemy Law.
He deemed the law irrelevant as Indonesians today are living in a different country than in the 1960s. Back then, he said, the government focused on ensuring national integration and pacifying the revolution and the guided democracy.

But one court expert argued that the law should be retained. Edward Omar Syarif Hiariej, a law expert from the Gadjah Mada University, said that the law was constitutional and ensured public order.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, however, noted that Edward also said that the law has always been used to judge one’s thought.
The law’s substance, he added, has actually been included in the Criminal Code.

Experts presented by the government and those coming from Islamic organizations have warned of possible conflicts in society should the law be revoked.
Constitutional justice Maria Farida said in a recent interview with the Post that the panel of judges “does not take conflict threats into account in its judgment”.
Musdah said she highly appreciated the process the court had taken in the review of the law. “The discussion in the Constitutional Court has been very elegant and open,” she added.