For Immediate Release: September 19, 2012
Washington, DC – As protests continue against the anti-Islamic film in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan, about 400 Indonesian protesters have clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Amidst this backdrop of violence and unrest that has spread now to Southeast Asia, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) is set to approve the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Indonesia. Human Rights First has urged the HRC to draw attention to several human rights concerns in Indonesia, including protection for human rights defenders and blasphemy-law related violence, an issue that is currently playing out across the Middle East.
Human Rights First submitted a Shadow Report to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in November 2011 for consideration in its summary of stakeholder submissions for Indonesia’s appearance before the thirteenth Universal Periodic Review session in May.
“Human Rights First is concerned about three principal human rights issues in Indonesia,” said Human Rights First’s Diana Sayed. “One is the lack of justice and accountability at the highest levels in the assassination of prominent human rights defender and activist Munir Said Thalib. We are also seeing incidents of continued intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders by state actors, and violence and human rights violations stemming from abuse of blasphemy laws.”
In its UPR submission, Human Rights First called for an independent investigation into those who planned and ordered Munir’s assassination and for prosecution of the offenders. The organization also recommended a case review of past criminal proceedings.
The group highlighted the need for greater protection for human rights defenders who continue to be subject to threats and intimidation. “Authorities must promptly investigate all previous attacks on activists, and effectively prosecute all threats and intimidation against defenders,” noted Sayed. “Other measures include adopting or creating institutional mechanisms to ensure the enforcement of such legislation, and increased oversight and accountability of state actors such as the police, military, and security forces. Legislation that criminalizes the work of human rights defenders, including journalists should also be repealed or amended.”
It is vital that the government reach out to work with and support Indonesian civil society and human rights organizations promoting democracy, tolerance, and the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious communities. Police trainings on conflict resolution and community policing, including how to prevent and respond to mob violence, are imperative. To guarantee that the rule of law is upheld the Indonesian government must fully investigate violations of religious freedom, including violent acts against members of religious minorities. Indonesia should also extend an invitation to the U.N. Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief to visit the country and to conduct an independent investigation into violations of religious freedom.
Indonesia’s blasphemy laws are inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect individuals rather than abstract ideas and religions, and they serve to promote an atmosphere of intolerance in which the government can restrict freedom of expression, thought and religion. Blasphemy laws can result in devastating consequences for those holding religious views that differ from the majority religions recognized in Indonesia, as well as adherents to minority faiths deemed heretical or blasphemous by the majority or state-backed religious establishments.
Human Rights First recommends repealing the blasphemy law or, at a minimum, amending the existing law to limit abuses by strengthening the requirements for proof of intent and evidence. The Indonesian Government should revoke the 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree and all laws which discriminate against or restrict the Ahmadiyya, and take measures to address threats made against them. Human Rights First also reports many incidents where officials have failed to condemn abuses or follow through with holding the perpetrators of violence accountable. The police have failed to prevent and stop violence against religious minorities and to protect and secure all those whose lives have been threatened and endangered on account of such laws. The judiciary has often failed to sufficiently punish the perpetrators of violence.
“In recent months the grave problems relating to Indonesia’s blasphemy laws have resurfaced. We have seen an upsurge of religious violence as well as a crackdown on freedom of expression,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “Last May, Islamic groups disrupted the discussion of Irshad Manji’s book in South Jakarta. The writer also suffered minor injuries after a mob attack during her book launch. Days later, Lady Gaga’s concert was cancelled after protests led by similar groups. Threats and attacks are becoming a trend in Indonesia, and extremists use tactics of intimidation against those who wish to speak out and exercise their freedom of belief. What’s more, the police are not adequately protecting those who are being intimidated.”
Human Rights First urges government officials should speak out against human rights abuses whenever such acts occur and, particularly in cases of violence, ensure that there is rapid and appropriate response from both law enforcement and criminal justice authorities. “The world will be standing by to ensure that these recommendations are included in tomorrow’s Indonesian UPR,” concluded Sayed.