GENEVA (22 May 2017) – A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of Indonesia to review and repeal its criminalization of blasphemy. Their call comes after the recent blasphemy conviction and imprisonment of Indonesian politician and former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (‘Ahok’).
On 9 May, North Jakarta District Court decided that Jakarta Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama was guilty of blasphemy for suggesting that some people had abused a Quranic verse to block his re-election bid and sentence him to two years imprisonment on Tuesday (9 May).
“Criminal laws that penalize blasphemy represent an unlawful restriction on freedom of expression, and disproportionately target persons belonging to religious minorities or traditional religions, non-believers and political dissidents,” said the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, and on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; and the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas.
“We urge the Government to overturn Mr. Purnama’s sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately,” the experts emphasized.
Mr. Purnama was officially charged with ‘blasphemy’ on 17 November 2016 in relation to a Qur’anic verse that he quoted during his gubernatorial election campaign. Recent targets of the blasphemy law in Indonesia included three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community.
The Government initiated the prosecution of Mr. Purnama following the pressure of a fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), as well as aggressive media campaigns and sometimes violent protests launched against him.
“It is disappointing,” the experts expressed, “instead of speaking out against hate speech by the leaders of the protests, the Indonesian authorities appear to have appeased incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination.”
“This case also illustrates that the existence of blasphemy law can be used to justify intolerance and hate speech,” they said. “Blasphemy law is not compatible with a democratic society like Indonesia and it harms religious pluralism in the country.”
“Mr. Purnama’s blasphemy conviction and imprisonment will undermine freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech in Indonesia,” the UN human rights experts concluded.