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Government support for ban on minority Islamic sect poses threat to freedom of expression, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - London 03 March 11 - Succumbing to large-scale protests by religious hardliners against Ahmadiyah - a minority Islamic sect with around 200,000 followers in Indonesia - the government has openly expressed support for a ban on the minority religious group by local administrations. ARTICLE 19 believes that moves to tighten the grip on Ahmadiyah pose a serious threat to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and prohibition of discrimination.

"Contrary to claims that the crackdown on Ahmadiyah will help restore harmony in the country, such a move sends the wrong message to the public, as it condones violence against minority groups, encourages discrimination against religious minorities and promotes religious intolerance," said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"It is ironic and deeply worrying that the Justice and Human Rights Minister is supporting actions that will undermine human rights in Indonesia," continued Callamard.

Indonesia's Justice and Human Rights Minister, Patrialis Akbar, said on Tuesday 01 March 2011 that it is the authority of the regional head to issue decrees on Ahmadiyah. On the same day, thousands of religious hardliners gathered in Jakarta calling for the disbandment of Ahmadiyah.

Patrialis' speech made reference to the decree recently released by the governor of East Java, Soekarwo, to totally ban the sect in the province. Under the decree, followers of Ahmadiyah are banned from using any forms of media to spread their beliefs and from displaying the name "Ahmadiyah" in public and in mosques. The decree has received the backing of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), which stated that the ban was necessary to stop protests against the sect. A similar argument was made by Patrialis, who said that Ahmadis had stirred up conflicts throughout the country.

At an Islamic gathering in Lombok on Sunday 27 February 2011, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali also said that Ahmadiyah should be outlawed and urged religious leaders to demand the disbandment of Ahmadiyah.

In April 2010, Indonesia's Constitutional Court upheld the country's controversial law on "defamation of religions," which imposes criminal penalties of up to five years' imprisonment on individuals or groups that "deviate" from the basic teachings of the official religions. The law was most recently used in 2008 when the government issued a joint ministerial decree forbidding Ahmadiyah followers from "conveying, endorsing or attempting to gain public support" for their religious beliefs. ARTICLE 19, Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court in support of repealing the laws. The organisations argue that 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 recent developments in Indonesia reflect the global challenges of discrimination and violence on religious grounds. ARTICLE 19, together with the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and Human Rights Watch, are urging UN member states to vote against the resolution on "defamation of religions" at the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council currently taking place in Geneva.

Click here to read the joint amicus curiae brief to the Indonesian Constitutional Court
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