The argument that the Blasphemy Law is necessary to mediate parties and decrease violence is at best unproven and at worst, the complete opposite of what is occurring in reality. Reports of violence from institutions such the Wahid Foundation and studies such as the National Violence Monitoring System (NVMS) indicate a steady and constant rise of religious violence in the past decade.
Data from the NVMS shows an average 31.7 percent increase of religious violence in Indonesia per year since 2003 until 2014, even when the usage of the Blasphemy Law within the same year range also increases.
What further solidifies the argument against the correlation of the law and decreasing violence is the fact that the bulk of religious violence (76.5 percent) actually occurred in 2011 to 2014, after the law attained nationwide notoriety on account of its judicial review in 2010. The Constitutional Court rejected requests to have it annulled and instead upheld the 1965 law.
However, the law does not just increase religious violence; it also contributes to transforming its nature. Owing its vaguely worded state and wrongly purposed nature, the law has allowed people to cloak their acts of violence under an elusive, seemingly just, form.
This is done in two ways; changing direct violence into seemingly more just structural violence, and skewing interreligious mediation, in which one expects fair results for both parties, with the threat of prosecution.
Last year’s data from Wahid’s religious freedom report shows a clear indicator of this first transformation. In 2014, direct violence, such as demolitions, expulsions, intimidation/threats, and coercions encompass 33.5 percent of state and non-state religious violence. In 2016, this number dwindled to 14.6 percent.
On the other hand, whereas criminalization only amounts to 9.7 percent of religious violence in 2014, it reached 16.2 percent of religious violence last year.
Not only has criminalization increased but for the first time, acts of religious criminalization surpassed acts of direct religious violence.
Though a decrease in direct violence would mean fewer casualties among religious minorities and a good indicator of an increasingly peaceful state of Indonesian Muslims, criminalization of religious minorities carries several harmful ramifications, mainly the cost of their rights as citizens.
Examples are vivid in the relocation in East Java of the Shia community of Sampang in Madura to Sidoardjo.
Politicians and law enforcers were restrained to prioritize the protection of the community’s civil rights in the instance of a clash between them and violent radical actors.
As a result, the path of achieving peace comes at the price of the basic rights of the Shia community, as opposed to the prosecution of the perpetrators.
This relocation separates them from whatever livelihood they had in Sampang, forcing them to scramble for any precarious vocation to survive.
For the past five years, the Shia community in Sidoardjo has been forced to live in insufficient government apartments (approximately 70 houses for 84 families, and in many instances four families sharing one house), experience the occasional weeklong water crisis (one lasted more than four days in August 2015) and even face difficulties in acquiring IDs.
Similarly, civil servants are reluctant to provide IDs to members of the Ahmadiyah minority such as those in Kuningan, West Java, due to their legally shunned status, based on a 2008 decree on the Ahmadiyah.
The decree bans anyone from “unlawful actions” against the Ahmadiyah but also bans the minority from propagating its beliefs that are deemed against the main teachings of mainstream Islam.
Administratively, IDs are essential to attain state services, including healthcare, a driver’s license, bank loans, food subsidies; all vital primary needs that should be provided by the state regardless of background.
Another impact of the law on religious violence is in the way it skews what should be fair mediation between conflicting religious parties.
Local incidents have actually shown various methods of religious conflict resolution, such as the Sunni-Shia mediation by Islamic organizations in Pasuruan, East Java, in 2013.
Such methods, though small, persistently occur; last year local ulema managed to mediate a conflict between local Islamic students and youth in Pamekasan, East Java, who had protested the presence of a controversial religious figure who was said to be a “wahabi” who hated the local mainstream Muslim community.
However, such mediations are mostly skewed against the religious minority due to the law. With the threat of being sued and jailed, religious minorities are forced to mediate on unequal terms and ultimately accept the demands of the majority even when they still feel the concessions are unfair.
In practice, this results in a myriad of cases in which “deviant religions” end up being forced to “convert back” to the “correct way”.
A clear example is the attempted mediation in April 2015 between the deputy regent of Kutai Timur, East Kalimantan, and Guru Bantil, an alleged “fake prophet”.
Though Guru Bantil was already convicted under the law in 2013, the official, Ardiansyah
Sulaiman, still used the law as a bargaining tool. Ardiansyah stated that if Guru Bantil did not repent, he would be sued again after he served his time.
A more common form of “mediation” is portrayed in the mediation between religious organizations such as between the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and Mukmin Sadimin. Mukmin led a religious sect in Cilacap, Central Java, deemed deviant; he was urged to repent and to promise not to spread his teachings again.
After a meeting he agreed to the terms proposed and even agreed to tear down his house of worship himself. Yet before the meeting, the house of worship was sealed and torn down by the FPI, and Mukmin himself was threatened and told that if he rejected the mediation efforts he would be “handed over to the responsible authorities”.
Therefore the law has made religious violence more elusive to prevent. As religious coercions are now being seen as more “just” as it is done by state institutions and/or more peaceful as it is conducted under the veil of mediation, arguments against them becomes less and less persuasive.
If one truly believes in the equal religious rights of Indonesia’s diverse population, it is important to keep these changes in check and call them out accordingly.
But more importantly now, it is vital to check and call out the root causes of these changes — Indonesia’s law itself.