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Cablegate: Religious Freedom -- Activists Take to the Courts

VZCZCXRO1230
OO RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHJA #1908/01 3220849
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 180849Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3866
INFO RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 JAKARTA 001908

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP, EAP/MTS, EAP/MLS, DRL, DRL/IRF, EAP/RSP
NSC FOR D.WALTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KIRF SOCI ID
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM -- ACTIVISTS TAKE TO THE COURTS
TO OVERTURN BLASPHEMY LAW

1. (U) SUMMARY: Human Rights activists are pressing the
Indonesian Constitutional Court to overturn a controversial
religious blasphemy law. Lawyers argue that the law limits
religious expression and contradicts the freedoms guaranteed
in the Indonesian Constitution. In the past, the GOI--under
pressure from mainstream Muslim organizations and other
groups--has used provisions of the blasphemy law to justify
limiting the religious activities of certain minority groups
and individuals. Overturning the law--which is possible
given the Constitutional Court's record of activist
jurisprudence--would go a long way toward solidifying
Indonesia's reputation for diversity and tolerance. END
SUMMARY.

ARGUMENTS BEFORE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

2. (U) Religious freedom is in the news in Indonesia. On
November 17, leading human rights lawyers formally petitioned
the Indonesian Constitutional Court to overturn a
controversial law which they say discriminates and limits
religious freedom. (Note: The Constitutional Court is a
court of first instance. It shares authority over
interpretations of Indonesian law and regulations with the
Supreme Court.) The law in question, entitled "on the
Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religion," is based on a
1965 Suharto-era decree against "misusing and/or denigrating
religion." Lawyers argued before the Court that the law
limits religious expression and contradicts the freedoms
guaranteed in the Indonesian Constitution.

3. (U) Under the law, "spreading religious hatred, heresy,
and blasphemy" is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The law is rarely applied. Although the law applies to all
officially recognized religions (such as Islam, Christianity
and Buddhism), the few cases in which it has been enforced
have almost always involved alleged blasphemy or heresy
against Islamic Sunni norms. According to human rights
activists, the law--more generally--has been used as the
first step toward banning or limiting the freedoms of
smaller, minority religious communities in Indonesia, and
thus has had "a chilling effect."

4. (U) In terms of examples of the law's application: using
the blasphemy law as its legal basis, the GOI issued a decree
last year that stopped just short of banning the minority
Ahmadiyah sect. The decree "warns" members of Ahmadiyah
against making their own interpretations of Islam and against
spreading their beliefs. Several Ahmadiyah houses of worship
have been closed and some Ahmadiyah members feel that they
are not free to worship their faith, although others say they
can work within the current system.

5. (U) The law is also sometimes applied to individuals. In
June, for example, a Jakarta court found Lia Eden, the leader
of a small religious sect, guilty of blasphemy and sentenced
her to two years and six months in prison. Eden claims to be
the reincarnation of the angel Gabriel and publicly stated
that Islam and other religions "must" be disbanded. This was
the second time that Eden has been tried on blasphemy
charges. She was arrested for the same crime in 2006,
sentenced to two years in prison and subsequently released.

GOVERNMENT ON THE DEFENSE

6. (U) The government is defending the law. GOI officials
have underscored that the government's chief interest is to
make sure that religious sects do not act against "public
order," e.g., by undertaking activities that cause others in
society "anger or distress." With some justification in
this developing country (given periodic flare-ups of
religious-based tension), the Indonesian government asserts
that it has difficulty controlling anger among its citizens
when "they feel that their religion has been challenged."

COURT COULD OVERTURN LAW

7. (U) Overturning the law would go a long way toward
solidifying Indonesia's reputation for diversity and
tolerance. The Constitutional Court has a record of activist
jurisprudence and could well overturn the law. If that
happens, many Muslim groups--including those in the
mainstream--will no doubt vociferously complain. That said,
it is positive that such issues are being debated in the
legal system and not on the streets.

JAKARTA 00001908 002 OF 002


HUME

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