May 7, 2012

South Moluccas: EU Should Press Indonesia On Human Rights

On the occasion of the EU-Indonesia human rights dialogue, organizations are pressing the EU to take a strong stance against religious intolerance and to advocate for the release of political prisoners.

Below is an article published by Human Rights Watch:

The European Union should press Indonesia to act against growing religious intolerance and to release all political prisoners during the EU-Indonesia human rights dialogue on May 3, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The EU-Indonesia dialogue should be more than token statements on human rights, but should discuss concrete measures to address rising religious intolerance and restraints on free expression in Indonesia,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This dialogue should be a wake-up call for Indonesia to protect religious minorities against growing violence and discrimination.”

Indonesian authorities have failed to adequately address increasing incidents of mob violence directed by militant Islamist groups against religious minorities in Java and Sumatra, including the Ahmadiyah, Christians, and Shia Muslims. In 2011, Islamist groups attacked members of the Ahmadiyah religious community and their mosques in 14 locations. Even in the few cases of violence that have resulted in prosecutions, the authorities have often failed to charge all those involved, and punishments handed down have been remarkably light.

The authorities have also used the 1965 blasphemy law and laws on criminal defamation to prosecute members of religious minorities, in violation of their basic rights. Some members of minority groups now facing criminal trials under these laws include the following:

Tajul Muluk, a Shia cleric, arrested on April 13, 2012, is now on trial at the Sampang district court, East Java, for blasphemy (up to five years’ imprisonment) and extortion by threatening defamation under article 335 of the Criminal Code (maximum one year) for alleged “deviant teachings.” On January 1, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in Sampanghad issued a fatwa describing Tajul Muluk’s teachings as “deviant.” Alexander An, a civil servant alleged to be an atheist, was arrested on January 18 and is now on trial at the Sijunjung district court, West Sumatra, for blasphemy and inciting public unrest (up to six years’ imprisonment) under the Information and Electronics Transactions Law for several posts from his Facebook account. Hasan Suwandi, a guardian of the Ahmadiyah Cipeuyeum mosque in Cianjur, is now on trial at the Cianjur district court, West Java, for criminal defamation under article 310 of the Criminal Code (up to two years’ imprisonment). The police brought the charges after a statement Hasan made to the Radar Banyumas newspaper in which he alleged that the Bojongpicung police chief, Hafidz Iskandar, had given permission for an Ahmadiyah mosque to be reopened. 

Human Rights Watch has previously documented how criminal defamation laws in Indonesia allow powerful persons, including public officials, to bring criminal charges against activists, journalists, consumers, and others who criticize them, and has called on Indonesia to repeal such laws. Criminal defamation charges have been filed against individuals after they have held public demonstrations protesting corruption, written letters to the editor complaining about fraud, registered formal complaints with the authorities, and published news reports about sensitive subjects. However a new trend is the use of criminal defamation laws targeting religious minorities.

The Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Badan Koordinasi Pengawas Aliran Kepercayaan Masyarakat, or Bakorpakem) located in the Attorney General’s office, provides a legal avenue for religious leaders to press for the prosecution of religious minority figures. This board actively encouraged police to charge Tajul Muluk, Hasan Suwandi, and Alexander An. The EU should call on the Indonesian government to review the investigatory role of Bakorpakem and for charges to be dropped against Tajul Muluk, Alexander An, and Hasan Suwandi.

Although Indonesia’s constitution protects freedom of worship, various laws and governmental decrees restrict that freedom and have emboldened Islamist groups to target religious minorities, Human Rights Watch said. Pressure from these groups, emboldened by government decrees restricting the construction of houses of worship, have in recent years led local authorities to close hundreds of Christian churches and dozens of Ahmadiyah mosques. Even in cases where the Supreme Court has ordered local authorities to reopen churches­ – such as the case of a Presbyterian church in Bogor, and the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi­ – local authorities have frequently refused to obey court rulings. The EU should urge Indonesia to revoke the 1969 and 2006 decrees on houses of worship, the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree, and various provincial and regent decrees enacted after the 2008 national decree.

“People are being prosecuted left and right for holding minority religious beliefs, and churches and mosques are being shut down,” said Pearson. “The EU should publicly and privately call on the Indonesian government to take action and stop the prosecution of religious minorities.”

Indonesia currently imprisons nearly 100 activists from the Moluccas and Papua for peacefully voicing political views, holding demonstrations, and raising separatist flags. These prisoners are usually convicted of treason (makar) and “inciting hatred” (haatzaiartikelen). Current political prisoners include Papuan former civil servant Filep Karma (15-year prison term in Abepura prison) and Moluccan farmer Ruben Saiya (20-year prison term in Nusa Kambangan Island prison). In November 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its opinion that the Indonesian government was in violation of international law by detaining Filep Karma, and called for his immediate release.

The EU should urge the Indonesian government to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners held for the peaceful expression of their political views. Some prisoners, such as Filep Karma, 53, and Ferdinand Waas, 64, have severe health problems and have received insufficient medical care. The EU should also call for Indonesian authorities to provide adequate health care for all prisoners. 

“Indonesia has made great progress in rebuilding its economy and strengthening democracy, but ethnic minorities in Papua and the Moluccas seem left out of the country’s changes,” said Pearson.  “The EU should remind the government that persecuting peaceful political activists is as wrong now as it was in the past.”