Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Date: Tuesday 16 December 2008
Subj: Indonesia: Islamisation and Polarisation
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

-- religious freedom-related violence increasing
-- President enacts anti-pornography bill


The Jakarta Post reports: "Religious violence is on the rise in the world's largest Muslim country according to a report by the Wahid Institute http://www.wahidinstitute.org/ , which places the blame on the government for its failing to crack down on radical groups.

"The institute, a moderate Islamic think tank founded by former president Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid to promote pluralism in Indonesia, reported that religious freedom-related violence had increased throughout the country, with 232 cases reported this year compared to 197 last year.

"Many of the incidences of violence were perpetrated by state authorities, according to the annual report released on Human Rights Day, Wednesday [10 Dec].

"'The acts of violence against religious freedom were 60 percent carried out by civilian groups and 33 percent by the state,' the report said.

"It said the state perpetrators included local administrations, police, legislators, courts and the Religious Affairs Ministry.

"Civilian perpetrators were identified as members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Communications Forum for Religious Harmony.

"The frequency and severity of the violence increased from last year, the report said. It noted that the government had been weak in administering punishment, which it said set a worrisome trend for the future.

"The institute said violations against religious freedom had come in the form of physical attacks, raids, destruction of houses of worship and accusations of apostasy and heresy . . . " (Link 1)


On 26 November 2008, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) enacted a controversial anti-pornography law. Yudhoyono's special staff for legal affairs Denny Indrayana told The Jakarta Post: "It becomes Law No. 44/2008 on anti-pornography. The President signed it because it was already a national consensus." (Link 2)

Indrayana's statement is misleading on two counts: the law is not about pornography as much as it about Islamisation; and there is no national consensus.

The anti-pornography law was pushed through parliament in October by conservative Muslim parties including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Crescent Star Party (or PBB). It passed in the legislature on 30 October to cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great). (Link 3)

Many analysts believe that SBY's enactment of the law is pure electioneering aimed at of securing the support of the Islamic parties ahead of the 2009 presidential elections. However, by this action he is also polarising the electorate and feeding regional instability.

The anti-pornography law is both staggeringly broad and hopelessly vague. Furthermore, as the law encourages citizens to report offences to police, there are concerns that Islamic vigilantes will seek to enforce its standards.

Indonesia's legislative elections are slated for April 2009, with the presidential election to be held three months later in July. Once again we are observing that oft-forgotten factor in multi-party politics: no party is as powerful as the one holding the balance of power, especially if that party also has the power to destabilise the State and bring down an elected government through the mobilisation of demonstrations, riots, crippling strikes and even sectarian conflict.


The journal "Inside Indonesia" has published an excellent analysis of the anti-pornography law entitled "A law on pornography still divides the community", by Helen Pausacker, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne's Law School. (Link 4)

Pausacker tracks the progress of the law from when it first emerged in the 1990s as the Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action Bill only to lie dormant until 2005-06 when it was revived and hotly debated before the strength of outcry against it led to it being withdrawn.

Pausacker writes: "The bill that was proposed in 2005-06 would not just have criminalised hard pornography. It would also have made illegal many kinds of theatre and dance performances, art, forms of dress (such as baring the shoulders and legs) and behaviour of individuals (such as kissing on the lips in public), displaying 'sensual parts' of the body or 'erotic dancing'. 'Sensual parts' of the body were specifically defined in Article 4 of the Elucidation of the 2005-06 version of the bill as 'the genitals, thighs, hips, buttocks, navel and female breasts, whether in whole or in part'."

Clearly such a bill would trigger chaos in a state as diverse as Indonesia, where mature tribal Javanese and Melanesian women still go around bare breasted; Balinese women dance -- some may say erotically -- with navels showing; many Papuan men wear only penis-gourds; and many progressive Indonesians as well as tourists from all over the world enjoy wearing shorts, singlet-tops and even bikinis on the beaches. Furthermore, the proposed penalties were to be harsh, with hefty fines and lengthy prison terms.

Pausacker continues: "Two years later, in September 2008, legislators introduced a revised version of the bill to the legislature (DPR), with some of them hoping that it would be passed quickly. The outcry was again great -- five thousand people demonstrated in Bali and there were demonstrations in Yogyakarta. . . . However, despite the strong views expressed both in favour of and against the bill, it was eventually passed on 30 October 2008.

"When it became clear that there were sufficient numbers in the legislature to pass the bill, two parties -- Megawati Soekarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) and the nationalist, Christian party, the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) -- walked out of the debate in protest. Regional loyalty was also so strong that two Balinese legislators from Golkar, Lisnawati Karna and Gede Sumarjaya Linggih, walked out when Golkar stated its approval of the bill. . . . The 30 October version of the bill was ratified by the president on 26 November as Law No. 44 of 2008 on Pornography, with no substantial changes."

Pausacker's article describes the revisions made to the 2005-06 bill which subsequently passed in October 2008. She notes that while the bill has been substantially shortened it has not been watered down -- rather it has been made less specific leaving the interpretation open to the courts.

"The definition of 'pornography' in the 30 October 2008 version passed by the DPR and the final law is vague enough to include some 'pornographic actions'. It states: 'pornography is pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, conversations, movements of the body, or other forms through a variety of communication media and/or performances in public which contain obscenity or sexual exploitation which violates the moral norms in society' (Article 1)."

Pausacker also explains that the penultimate (September 2008) version of the bill protected cultural expression by making it clear that exceptions would be made for regional interests so that their local customs would not be interpreted as pornographic.

However, Pausacker continues, "This article is missing from the final law. Instead, the law includes the following statement at the beginning: 'This Law aims to: […] respect, protect and preserve the artistic and cultural values, [regional] cultural practices and religious rituals of the pluralistic Indonesian society' (Article 3b). There is no clear statement of exceptions, except for the vague phrase in Article 13(1) of the Elucidation that the definition of what is pornography also depends on the context, stating that in specific contexts, a photo of a model wearing a bikini, bathers or beachwear would not be seen as pornographic.

"The emphasis of the earlier versions and the final version were quite different. The earlier versions suggested that exceptions would be made for particular regions and customs when judging an accusation of pornography. The final law suggests that regional views have already been taken into account in the drafting of the law, where in fact the contrary is the case: the final version provides the least clear protection of regional interests."

This is why regions such as Hindu-populated Bali, as well as Papua and other Christian-populated regions such as North Sulawesi have protested so strongly.

Hostility, tensions and conflict are likely to escalate not only from regions, but within them. Pausacker notes that in Bali, the Governor and former police general, Made Mangku Pastika and speaker of the Balinese Regional Peoples Representative Council (DPRD), Ida Bagus Putu Wesnawa, have voiced their opposition to the bill and stated their intention to not implement it. Meanwhile, Bali's Chief Inspector of Police, General Teuku Ashikin Husein (who, Pausacker notes, is not Balinese, and has previously worked in Aceh and Southeast Sulawesi) has issued a public statement that the law was 'positive' and that his office would be enforcing it. (See also link 5.)

This scenario also opens the door for extortion and police corruption.

In Muslim-majority areas there is a particular danger of talibanisation and Islamic vigilantism. This danger is fuelled not only by the zeal generated by the legitimisation of Islamic demands, but from the law itself which states, in Article 21(1), that members of the community have the right to report infringements.

Pausacker notes: "The Elucidation to Article 21(1) specifically states 'that the community is not to perform acts which take the law into their own hands, acts of violence, raids (sweeping), or other acts which are against the law'. Despite this Elucidation (which both members of the general public and vigilante groups will often not read) some critics have expressed concern that vigilante groups will try to enforce the law themselves. [. . .] Critics of the law are right to feel concerned because for years violent raids by vigilante groups on bars or brothels in the fasting month have gone unchecked by police."

Ifdal Kassim, chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said the law, which would invade people's privacy, could trigger human rights violations and will create disharmony among the people. (Link 6)

Surpiyadi Widodo Eddyono, the legal services coordinator for the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) also raised concerns. "Some articles are not for the protection of human rights. There are loopholes that could be misinterpreted."
According to The Jakarta Post, he is encouraging activists to petition the Constitutional Court for a judicial review of the law. (Link 6)

Sidney Jones, head of the South-east Asia section of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group comments: "The bill goes deep into the Muslim mainstream. There is an increasing push from some Muslim groups and some Muslim parties to give the state a greater role in legislating morality."

According to Jones, this trend is even taking root in the country's large secular parties like Golkar, which threw its weight behind the anti-pornography bill. "'There has been a kind of Islamisation of Golkar,' Jones revealed. 'The political parties are under pressure from an active civil society movement on the Muslim right.'" (Link 7)

According to opposition lawmaker Eva Sundari, who voted against the law in parliament, "The goal of this law is to become a legal umbrella for groups pushing for Sharia [Islamic law]." (Link 8)

So now as we head towards the 2009 elections, not only have pro-Sharia Islamic fundamentalists been further empowered and emboldened, but a situation has been created where any racist or Islamic fundamentalist police officer or vigilante-Islamic-morals-enforcer in (for example) Melanesian-Christian Papua will be able to exploit the anti-pornography law in order to persecute and/or extort any member of the local community who does not submit to the Islamised standard.

Such violent and repressive Islamic cultural imperialism should have no place in a diverse, pluralist, progressive, secular state.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Cases of religious violence up: Report
Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 11 Dec 2008

2) SBY signs porn law, protesters despair
By Abdul Khalik, Jakarta, 9 Dec 2008

3) Indonesian parliament passes anti-porn bill. 30 Oct 2008

A law on pornography still divides the community.
By Helen Pausacker, 15 Dec 2008

5) Bali police will enforce pornography law: Chief
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 10 Nov 2008

6) Porn law casts a shadow over human rights
Indah Setiawati and Ni Komang Erviani, Jakarta, Denpasar, 10 Dec 2008

7) Culture-Indonesia: Anti-Porn Law Reveals Growing Islamist Power
By Marwaan Macan-Markar. Inter Press Service.

8) Indonesian anti-porn law cramps Papuans' style
By Aubrey Belford, AFP, Kurulu, Indonesia, 10 Dec 2008