Blasphemy not a crime: UN official

Jakarta Post, Indonesia
NATIONAL Fri, 11/11/2011 11:30 AM
Bagus BT Saragih, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Amid various acts of discrimination and the persecution of followers of the Ahmadiyah sect, a UN official says blasphemy should not be categorized as a crime.

Frank William La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said blasphemy may indeed come from someone who disrespects a religion but that this should not be seen as a criminal action.

“I understand that religion, as well as philosophy, is in the world of context of spirituality and concept and idea, and therefore they are open to discussion and debate, which should never be charged with blasphemy law,” Frank told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the Asia Civil Society Consultation on National Security and Right to Information Principles, at a hotel in Jakarta on Thursday.

“I believe in respect, but I don’t believe respect can be achieved through censorship,” he added. “Europe also has a blasphemy law and I think that is a mistake.”

Frank cited article 20 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates that all states should prohibit the incitement to hatred hostility and violence and to any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion or nationality against anyone.

In Indonesia, the covenant was ratified in 2006.

Several Islam groups have been repeatedly urging for the disbandment of the Ahmadiyah sect in Indonesia, saying it is a deviant sect that is blasphemous against Islam.

Members of the groups insist that the government has the authority to ban Ahmadiyah under the old 1965 Law on Blasphemy.

The sentiment was seen earlier this year in a fatal incident in which an Ahmadiyah sect in Cikeusik, Banten, were brutally attacked by a mob in February, leaving three of its members dead and many others injured. Video recordings of the incident were later distributed online, resulting in a public outcry, however, those responsible for the violence received comparitively light sentences.

In 2008, the leader of the Salamullah (God’s Kingdom of Eden) sect, Lia Aminudin, was also detained by police and charged with blasphemy.

In 2010, a number of NGOs concerned with human rights filed for a judicial review at the Constitutional Court, challenging the law against the 1945 Constitution. The petitioners said article 28 of the Constitution guarantees every citizens’ religious rights.

The court, however, denied the request and upheld the law.

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