Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's choice of Ma'ruf Amin as running mate in next year's election has been criticized by Human Rights Watch.
"[The choice] raises questions about Jokowi's commitment to improve human rights protection for all Indonesians," the New York-based organization said in a statement issued on Friday (10/08).
The organization said Ma'ruf has played a pivotal role in fueling discrimination against religious and gender minorities in Indonesia.
Ma'ruf, 75, is highly respected among traditional Muslims in Indonesia, and has been chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) since 2015.
MUI is the country's top Muslim clerical body, comprising of all registered Muslim organizations, including Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah. The council serves as a central authority, which issues fatwas and provides recommendations on the issuance of halal certificates.
Ma'ruf is also the supreme leader of NU, in 1971-1982 was a lawmaker with the United Development Party (PPP), and in 1997-2004 with the National Awakening Party (PKB).
According to Human Rights Watch, Ma'ruf has helped draft and issue discriminatory fatwas against religious minorities, including Ahmadis and Shias, and the LGBT community.
Jokowi said Ma'ruf was chosen because of his religious authority.
"I think we complement each other, in terms of nationalism and religion," the president said on Thursday.
Ma'ruf was one of the key expert witnesses in a controversial blasphemy trial which sent former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama to prison last year. He also signed an MUI document stating that Ahok had committed blasphemy.
"Ma'ruf Amin has already shown he has no hesitation in putting vulnerable minorities at risk," said Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch deputy director of Asia Division.
During his first presidential race in 2014, Jokowi promised to address pressing human rights issues and resolve past rights violations.
"Jokowi will need to prove that he values his obligation to defend the rights and dignity of all the Indonesian people above pandering to extreme intolerance for short term political gain," Kine said.