Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Indonesia will likely register a bleak record in the protection of religious minorities in the next four years following the government's decision to reject a recommendation from the United Nations Human Rights Council (Unhcr) urging Indonesia to revoke laws and regulations that curb religious freedom.
The Unhcr's quadrennial "Universal Periodic Review" in May requested that Indonesia amend or revoke laws and regulations that banned religious freedom, including the 1965 Blasphemy Law, the 1969 and 2006 ministerial decrees on the construction of places of worship, and the 2008 joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyah.
In response, the Indonesian government has included them on list of items that "the government is unable to support". The government is expected to present its response at the Unhcr headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 19.
The government maintains that the 1965 Blasphemy Law, for example, is guaranteed by the Constitution.
Ifdhal Kasim, chariman of an independent body National Commission on Human Rights, said the Blasphemy Law had commonly been abused by the majority to suppress minority groups.
"It's crucially important that we amend the 1965 Blasphemy Law; otherwise, the government will gradually allow the majority to force those in minority groups to convert to its mainstream teachings," Kasim said.
A coalition of human rights watchdogs have urged the government to change its decision and adopt the recommendation in order to prove its commitment to upholding and protecting minority rights in the country.
"Religious intolerance will continue to grow in the future unless the government revokes discriminatory laws, such as the 1965 Blasphemy Law. Majority groups have been using that law as an excuse to attack minority groups, such as the Ahmadiyah and Shia followers," Choirul Anam, from the Human Rights Working Group, said yesterday.
Choirul added that the government could amend or revoke some of the laws, although the Constitutional Court had upheld the 1965 Blasphemy Law when civil rights groups filed for a judicial review in 2010.
In addition to rejecting recommendations on religious rights, the government also states in its report for the Unhcr that it is unable to allow foreign journalists free access to Papua and West Papua, as proposed by the French delegation during the May meeting.
The Indonesian government also refuses to allow the entry of the United Nations special rapporteurs on indigenous people and minority groups into the country. The Foreign Ministry said the government had abided by the Constitution when drafting its response to the recommendations.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene said the government's refusal to adopt the recommendation on the Blasphemy Law was simply because it was subject to the Constitution.
"The Constitutional Court ruled that the 1965 Blasphemy Law conformed with our Constitution. We must respect the Constitutional Court as it is the highest legal institution in the country," Tene said.
As for the government's refusal to allow foreign journalists to enter Papua, Tene said: "This doesn't mean that we prohibit foreign journalists from entering Papua. We can allow them to go there as long as they follow all the regulations laid out by the government," Tene said.
In its report, the government also rejects a recommendation to halt human rights violations by military personnel and police officers, and put an end to the general state of impunity in Papua, as recommended by Japan, arguing that "the recommendations do not reflect the actual situation in the province referred to".