The state of freedom in the country has fallen to a new low with more rights violations committed by the government and local administrations, according to a report.
Human rights watchdog the Setara Institute has revealed that in 2016, the index of freedom of religion and faith in the country decreased from 2.57 to 2.47. The range was from 0 to 7, with 4 constituting a moderate score.
Setara researcher Sudarto said on Monday that 2016 had put the country on alert regarding freedom of religion, although the institute had recorded fewer violations of religious freedoms, with 184 as of Dec. 8 this year from 197 as of Dec. 31, 2015.
“Although lower in quantity, the cases this year are more dangerous and systematic in quality, which then leads to more serious destruction,” Sudarto said.
Discrimination against minority groups, such as the Fajar Nusantara Movement (Gafatar), Ahmadiyah followers and Shia believers, was among the factors that contributed to the low score.
Gafatar members experienced systematic discrimination, from the issuance of an Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) fatwa declaring Gafatar a heretical organization that spread deviant religious teachings, to discriminatory comments from high-level state officials, arson attacks on houses and evictions.
The Ahmadiyah religious community has suffered intimidation and threats of expulsion from people and local authorities. In Bangka regency, located off the east coast of Sumatra in Bangka-Belitung Islands province, for example, the local administration demanded Ahmadiyah followers either convert to Sunni Islam or face expulsion from Bangka.
The latest example was an intolerant act by Muslim hard-liners against a Christian community in Bandung, West Java. The Reformed Injili Indonesia Church was forced to cancel a Christmas service at Sasana Budaya Ganesha (Sabuga) by a group calling itself the Ahlu Sunnah Defenders (PAS), which claimed the event was “illegal” because it was held at a public facility.
Sudarto said the rise of intolerant acts was triggered by regulations that seemed to not support religious freedom, one of which is the 1965 Blasphemy Law, which is linked to the Criminal Code (KUHP).
“The regulations have repeatedly been used by certain groups to criminalize religious minority groups. The government should revise or, even better, scrap it,” Sudarto said.
Moreover, Setara said the fatwas issued by the MUI also contributed to discriminatory acts. “MUI’s fatwas really contributed to the discriminatory acts because many local authorities refer to them as a legal basis, thus intolerant groups feel they have legitimacy to attack minorities,” Sudarto added.
Freedom of expression also saw a decreasing score, to 2.1 from 2.18 in 2015. The lower score was reportedly caused by criminalization of human rights activists and journalists.
Setara recorded 32 criminalization cases against activists in 2016, higher than 23 in the previous year. Another contributor to negative sentiment regarding freedom of expression is the newly passed Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, which contains several articles that restrict freedom of expression.
“Nowadays it’s difficult for us to differentiate between criticism and hate speech. Many people have been arrested for allegedly spreading hate speech when they only expressed their criticism to the government,” Setara deputy chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos said.
Human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said freedom of the press and expression in the country had also eroded in recent years, due to a number of draconian articles in the ITE Law and a proposed revision of the KUHP.
Under the regulation, journalists and other people can be sent to prison for insulting a judge or court.
According to the bill, parties can be barred from commenting on a court verdict they deem unfair because there are not yet clear guidelines about what constitutes “insulting judges” or “attacking judges’ integrity”.
Other articles may also jeopardize free speech, while another article in the bill could lead to people being imprisoned for up to two years for spreading lies or fake news that could in turn generate unrest.
Source : The Jakarta Post