JAKARTA - Experts have warned that implementation of the Blasphemy Law could lead to the radicalization of Muslims.
Tobias Basuki, a political analyst from Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that fear of being charged under the Blasphemy Law or attacked by hard-line groups had discouraged moderate Muslims and minority groups from joining debates on religion, especially Islam.
"Minority groups have been silenced, especially in the past 10 years, because of [former president] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's inaction. After all that now we're heading toward a condition where silencing others is acceptable," said Tobias at a seminar on Tuesday.
Although Yudhoyono was hailed internationally for encouraging pluralism, many lamented the fact that many who questioned mainstream religious teachings were charged with blasphemy under his watch.
Article 156 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) stipulates that those found guilty of publicly displaying hostility, hatred or contempt toward a group of people could face a maximum prison sentence of five years. On top of such a draconian law, hard-line groups such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) have the freedom to crack down on minority groups and individuals promoting an inclusive version of Islam.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Jakarta-based Leimena Institute, said that his extensive research on Muslim countries and religious freedom showed that the greatest danger to religious pluralism did not come from the government implementing the Blasphemy Law but from mobs and militant groups who would take the law in their own hands if they felt that someone had insulted their religion.
"The danger is when you get a passive state where the government just sits there when 100 people attack someone for what they said or who they are […] this allows violence to flourish," he said.
Marshall said that the government's unwillingness to protect citizens against such groups made them afraid to raise religious issues, especially to contradict extremist views.
"There's a danger of increasing radicalization because you start to only hear one voice," he said.
Rights watchdog group Setara Institute reported 135 cases of religious-based violence across the country in 2007. The latest figures show the number of case rose to 264 in 2012.
Members of the Ahmadiyah and Shia communities have been subjected to repeated attacks by Sunni Muslims who condemn them for their beliefs and teachings. Several Protestant and Catholic groups have also been prevented from building churches even though they have valid permits.
However, Marshall acknowledged that the situation was much better in Indonesia as the Blasphemy Law was more lenient than in other countries and there had not been too many allegations against members of the community.
Furthermore, attacks against minority groups were not as prevalent as they were in Middle Eastern countries for instance, he said.
"There's increasing sentiment here that the Indonesian understanding of Islam and its efforts in inter-religious relations should have more influence in the Muslim world than it actually has. The influence has been largely one way from the Middle East to Indonesia," he said.