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Human rights NGOs argue "defamation of religions" law contravenes freedom of expression, freedom of religion and equality

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 23 March 2010 - Indonesia's laws prohibiting and punishing the "abuse or defamation of religions" are contrary to international human rights law, according to the amicus curiae brief submitted by ARTICLE 19, Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights to the Indonesian Constitutional Court on 11 March 2010.

The organisations submitted the brief to the Indonesian Constitutional Court in the judicial review of Law Number 1/PNPS/1965 concerning the prevention of religious abuse and/or defamation. The 1965 law prohibits "interpretation and activities [that] are in deviation of the basic teachings" of "a religion adhered to in Indonesia", which includes some faiths with followers in the country but not others. The Indonesian Criminal Code imposes a five year prison sentence on anyone who publicly expresses views or engages in actions which are considered "abuse or defamation" of these religions.

In the opinion of the organisations, the laws violate Indonesia's international human rights obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to equality. The organisations emphasise that the laws are fundamentally incompatible with the authoritative interpretation of international human rights law by international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression and on freedom of religion or belief. The organisations further argue that the laws go against regional human rights standards and practices.

The organisations have submitted the brief in the hope that the Constitutional Court will rescind Indonesia's defamation laws as a first step towards ensuring full adherence to Indonesia's international legal obligations, including respect for and protection of the human rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and ending discriminatory policies and practices against certain minority faiths.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

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