Freedom of Religion or Belief News


The now disbanded Gafatar hit the headlines after dozens of people, who had been reported missing by relatives, were believed to have joined. Last year, hundreds of members had to be evacuated from their West Kalimantan base after being attacked by residents who opposed their beliefs.

Gafatar was labeled by Indonesia’s Ulema Council a deviant sect and authorities had described its teachings as “dangerous”. People associated with the group say it is a social organization, not religious.

A panel of judges at the East Jakarta court on Tuesday jailed Mahful Muis Tumanurung and Ahmad Mussadeq for five years and Andry Cahya for three years for blasphemy. The men were cleared of treason charges.

A lawyer for the men, Yudhistira, described it as a “malicious prosecution” that had tainted Indonesia’s justice system and said would consider whether to appeal.

Indonesia’s blasphemy laws have come under greater scrutiny since Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta’s Christian governor, was put on trial for allegedly insulting the Koran. He has denied wrongdoing but his trial has inflamed religious tensions. Almost all blasphemy cases in recent years have ended in conviction.

Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims, the majority of whom adhere to moderate Sunni beliefs, and it recognizes six religions including Hinduism, Catholicism and Buddhism, but minorities, even within Islam, have faced rising intolerance in recent years.

Human rights organizations criticized the verdicts.

“The sentences show how Indonesia’s vague, coercive and discriminatory blasphemy laws are being used to punish people for peacefully exercising minority beliefs,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

They were approved after a heated discussion that turned into shouting matches between ruling coalition members and Arab lawmakers, some of whom tore copies of the legislation and were ejected from the chamber.

The bills passed 55-48 and 55-47 in the Knesset, or parliament.

While the bills in theory would apply to any religious place of worship, Muslims say it is clearly meant to silence the traditional call to prayer at mosques.

The measure has become commonly known as the "muezzin law" after the Muslim official charged with calling the faithful to prayer, often through powerful speakers mounted on minarets.

The notion of Israeli legislation silencing mosques has sparked outrage around the Arab and wider Muslim world.

Supporters of the move say it is needed to prevent daily disturbance to the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Israelis.

Last month, government ministers endorsed the softer version of the bill prohibiting loudspeakers overnight, which limits its scope to the first of the five daily Muslim calls to prayer just before dawn.

That version would apply to mosques in annexed east Jerusalem as well as Israel, but not to the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site, according to an Israeli official.

'A racist act'

An earlier draft limiting volumes throughout the day had been rejected because it might have silenced the siren sounded in Jewish areas at sunset on Friday to mark the start of the Sabbath.