Religious Freedom Protection Bill Close to Completion


FEBRUARY 20, 2015

Jakarta. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has almost completed drafting a bill on protecting freedom of religion in Indonesia, saying a new law is necessary to keep the peace in society by, for instance, clarifying what exactly constitutes blasphemy.

"We have prepared the legislation draft and are still perfecting it," Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin told newsportal on Thursday.

Under the proposed law, the ministry will be better able to deal with, for example, expressions of support for groups like the Islamic State movement, the minister said.

The law draft will be open in April for public comment, especially from religious leaders and human rights activists.

Lukman said late last year that the bill on religious tolerance that would guarantee one’s right to freedom of religion, including protection of minority religious groups.

Earlier, in July, Lukman won praise from rights activists and minority groups as he said he recognized Baha’i as a faith, although he later clarified that it was his personal opinion, not a policy of the government.

Indonesia recognizes six official religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), has emphasized the need for real actions in the form of law enforcement against those who commit violence on behalf of religion.

“So far, there haven’t been real actions made by the government to address intolerance cases in many areas in Indonesia. Although there has been statement from the minister, I’m afraid it could be no more than a saccharine promise,” Haris said in December.

“The government often forgets that intolerance cannot be addressed by mere stack of papers consisting of regulations. No matter how many laws you propose, without firm actions by from law enforcers, there will still be groups that commit violence on behalf of religion.”

He further added that the drafted bill would be useless if the government did nothing to revoke bylaws that were against the spirit of the bill.

Bylaws in several regions in Indonesia have been subject to rights activists’ criticism because they are considered discriminatory, most notably in Aceh, the only province in Indonesia allowed to adopt Shariah-based bylaws following its history of secessionist rebellion.