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’).
“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.
Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Mr. Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.