Immigration Newsletter

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Law Raises Fears for Minorities, Liberals | News | English

Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Law Raises Fears for Minorities, Liberals | News | English
from Voice of America (
The recent arrest of six people in Indonesia over a nightclub show is raising concerns among minority groups and secularists about a new anti-pornography law.

In late 2008, Indonesia's parliament passed a broad law aimed at stamping out what many politicians saw as an epidemic of pornography. Pushed by Islamic conservatives, the law outlawed anything - from books to paintings to some bodily movements - considered capable of raising feelings of lust.

Liberals and non-Muslims opposed the law, saying it is too harsh and too broad. But there was little action - until the arrest last month of four women for dancing in their underwear at a nightclub in Bandung.

The women arrested at the Belair Café and Music Lounge are likely to be the first people tried under the law and could face up to 10 years in prison. Their agent and a club manager could be jailed for 15 years.

Rights activists say the use of the law is the first step of a crusade they fear will spread beyond the fight against smut, and become a campaign against regional traditions and religious minorities. The concern is that everything from traditional dances to Hindu temple carvings could fall afoul of the law.

Ellin Rozana, the director of the Indonesian women's rights group Institut Perempuan, says the anti-pornography law is part of a project by some Islamic parties to push Indonesia toward adopting aspects of sharia, or Islamic law.

RAD ~ I currently have a case pending at the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit involving whether an ethnic Chinese Christian has reason to seek political asylum from Indonesia on account of religious persecution by Fundamentalist Muslims. The Court has been very resistant to the idea in the past. Stories like this one cause me to worry that Indonesia may be heading in the wrong direction regarding tolerance of religious and ethnic minorities.

Indonesia has the highest Muslim population of any country and most of the Muslims in Indonesia are peaceful, moderate and tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities most of the time. However, there were horrifying riots in May of 1998 in which many Chinese and Christians were murdered, raped and beaten. Many businesses and homes were burned and looted and law and order was not restored for days. The the forced closing and even bombing of churches (though not widespread) has taken place regularly in Indonesia over the past decade and other acts of terrible ethnic and religious violence (such as beheadings) have taken place during that span as well.

The federal courts rely heavily on the advice of the US State Department to determine what risk there is in returning foreign nationals who make a claim for political asylum. To my mind this is problematic (even if understandable)because the Secretary of State is first and foremost a diplomat. No good diplomat is going to want to embarrass the government of the largest Muslim state in the world while we are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lately the State Department has (in my view at least) taken a slightly more critical view of religious freedom and tolerance in Indonesia. Here is an excerpt from the DOS 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom:

"The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. The Government officially recognized only six religions, and legal restrictions continued on certain types of religious activity.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, ongoing government restrictions, particularly among unrecognized religions and sects of the recognized religions considered "deviant" were significant exceptions to respect for religious freedom. Since the previous reporting period the Government convicted and sentenced the leaders of a hardline Muslim organization to 18 months in prison, including time served, for their role in organized violence against a peaceful demonstration in support of religious freedom. The Government also prosecuted terrorists responsible for religiously tinged violence in Sulawesi and the Malukus. In some cases, however, the Government tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors and failed to punish perpetrators, although the Government prevented several vigilante actions during Ramadan. Aceh remained the only province authorized to implement Islamic law (Shari'a), although non-Muslims in the province are exempted from Shari'a. Many local governments outside of Aceh maintained laws with elements of Shari'a that abrogated certain rights of women and religious minorities; however, no new laws based on Shari'a were known to have passed during the reporting period. Even though the central Government holds authority over religious matters, it did not try to overturn any local laws that restricted rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Members of minority religious groups continued to experience some official discrimination in the form of administrative difficulties, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards.

There were a number of reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Some groups used violence and intimidation to forcibly shut at least nine churches and 12 Ahmadiyya mosques. Some of the churches remained closed and one Ahmadiyya mosque in Riau that was completely destroyed had not been rebuilt. Other mosques were reopened. Many perpetrators of past abuse against religious minorities were not brought to justice.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with government and civil society leaders as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy promoted religious freedom and tolerance through exchanges and civil society development."

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