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Indonesia: Constitutional Court Upholds Blasphemy Law

(Apr. 22, 2010) On April 19, 2010, the Constitutional Court of Indonesia held that a 1965 blasphemy law does not contravene the Constitution and is necessary to ensure public order and religious harmony. The judges found that a request that the law be revised or annulled by the Court had “no legal base,” although they thought that the law “needs to be made clearer.” (Chris Blake, Indonesia Court Upholds Blasphemy Law, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Apr. 19, 2010, available at; Camelia Pasandaran, Constitutional Court Keeps Faith with Indonesia's Controversial Blasphemy Law, THE JAKARTA GLOBE, Apr. 20, 2010, available at

Freedom of religion is protected by Indonesia's Constitution (Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, 1945, arts. 28E, 28I, & 29(2), available at [unofficial translation] (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).) The 1965 blasphemy law recognizes six official religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism) and allows the government to ban groups and prosecute people that “distort” any of these religions. The law carries a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment. (Blake, supra; Pasandaran, supra.)

The case was brought by a coalition of human rights organizations and some high-profile individuals. They argued that the blasphemy law limits religious freedom in the world's most populous Muslim nation. According to the CIA WORLD FACTBOOK, over 85% of the estimated 240 million people living in Indonesia identify themselves as being Muslim. (Indonesia, THE WORLD FACTBOOK, (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).) In particular, opponents of the law consider it to be overly vague, with government authorities therefore able to interpret and enforce it in a discriminatory manner. (Blake, supra.) Witnesses told the court that they had been intimidated, discriminated against, and imprisoned as a result of the law. (Pasandaran, supra.)

The Indonesian government defended the law, with the Minister of Religion stating in a speech to the country's largest Islamic organization in March that “[f]reedom doesn't have to be absolute. There must still be rules.” (Anita Rachman & Ulma Haryanto, Religion Minister Defends Indonesia's Blasphemy Law, THE JAKARTA GLOBE, Mar. 24, 2010, available at

Seven of the Court's nine judges said that the law protects each of the religions from desecration and does not bar religions that are not listed from being practiced. The sole dissenting judge considered that the law was drafted during a revolutionary era when leaders were concerned about social unrest and that it is not needed in modern Indonesia. (Blake, supra.) The remaining judge agreed with the findings of the majority, but set out separate reasoning. (Pasandaran, supra.)

The judicial review of the law generated a high level of controversy and protests by some Muslim groups who support the law. Riot police were deployed around the Court prior to the delivery of the verdict, but no unrest was reported. (Blake, supra.)