INDONESIA: Attack on religion is an attack on democracy

Following a spate of well-orchestrated attacks on individuals, properties, mosques and schools of the Ahmadiah sect, and demands by several Islamic organizations to the President of Indonesia to have it banned, Ahmadiahan leaders issued a statement containing “12 points of explanations”.

The 12 points included among other matters, an acknowledgment of Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet, which has long been a bone of contention. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, its founder was recognized as the last of the prophets. This development amounts to forcing a minority religious group to change its basic tenets so as to comply with the demands coming from a majority group.

This development has also to be seen in the context of the Indonesian Ulema Council which declared Ahmadiah sect heretical. While the declaration was the climax for a series of demands by the majority Muslim community over a long period of time, it triggered a series of attacks on the sect, resulting in this subjugation. The worst is yet to come.

Religious Affairs Minister M. Maftuh, without examining the conditions under which this 12 point declaration was made or without considering the state’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, to which Indonesia is a state party, also decided to consider it heretical.

To make matters worse, the ministry under pressure from the Ulema Council issued a decree establishing a monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the 12 points. This literally means that the Ministry for Religious Affairs, succumbed to pressure from the majority religious groups to suppress the freedom “of thought, conscience and religion –  “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Indonesia is a party. The ministry not only accepted the 12 point explanation but also conceded to the majority compulsion to appoint a Committee to Oversee the Implementation of 12 points.

The International Covenant is equally clear when it states that the freedom of religion can be curtailed if it is required “to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” – Article 18, No. 3. There are no indications to allude to any provocation, threat to morals or the fundamental rights of others, while the opposite is true.

Article 26 is quite emphatic when it states, “In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion…”  Whereas for the ‘right for effective protection’ that each one is entitled to enjoy without any discrimination, it is totally unacceptable that on the instigation of the majority religious group the minority religion is deprived of the freedom to practice it.

Indonesia is certainly proud of it plurality of cultures and religions. It is indicative of vitality, richness and the eagerness to grow into a pluralist democratic society. Such democratic ideals must also continuously ward off pressures to make it an Islamic state under the guise of making it a religious society. Besides, it is up to the state to find out how a religious society can be created while safeguarding the rights of all. Most of the other existing religions harbor the fear that the treatment meted out to Ahmadiah, might be repeated in their case as well. These fears have been confirmed by the reports of attacks on the churches and places of worship of Christians and other sects for the past several years.

The deliberate discriminatory practices towards the minority religions become evident when the following are analysed:

  • the law itself – the Two-Minister Regulation of 2006 – is  unfavorable  to the construction of places of worship, which indirectly curbs the freedom of religion
  • the police or prosecutor does not effectively act on complaints made of attacks on persons    or places of worship
  • lack of preventive or proactive action by the state.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is of the opinion that all these collude to a growing trend to stifle the religious freedom of minorities, which borders on the infringement of their democratic rights. The freedoms lived by the minorities is the test of democracy in the country. If under the pressure of the majority, the rights of minorities are suppressed, then it sounds an alarm about the narrowing down of the democratic space in the country and of democracy itself.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-072-2008
Countries : Indonesia,