In the Case of Blasphemy Law, Silence is not Gold

In the Case of Blasphemy Law, Silence is not Gold

Meliana, a 44-years ethnic Chinese Buddhist woman had complained the Muslim call to prayer that it was played too loudly, making her sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly insulting Islam. The Amnesty International has urged a higher court to challenge the decision, whereas Indonesia’s Islamic Community Forum said that the sentence was too light. On the top of this two side of point of view, the case of Meliana add the number of people to prison under Blasphemy Law after the former ethnic Chinese governor Jakarta jailed after being accused of insulting Islam when he said his political rivals were using the Koran to deceive voters.



Indonesia is actually admired for succesfully combining Islam and democracy. Yet the cases of blasphemy have become more frequent in Indonesia, which is also known as the most populous Muslim country in the world. According to Human Right Watch, 147 people have been prisoned under Blasphemy Law since 2014. The government’s refusal to seek the law’s revocation raises troubling questions about its commitment to human right fulfillment for all people in Indonesia. In implication, Indonesia cannot claim to be a tolerant Muslim country while continuing religious discrimination enabled by its Blasphemy Law.


In the case of Meliana, we witness once more that Blasphemy Law is still blurred and debatable in its praxis. By definition, the Blasphemy Law covers two cores of blasphemous acts, namely deviation from six officially recognized religions and defamation of these religions. The basis of justification should be made according to Articles 1 and 4 respectively of Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965 which covers the intention in conveying, endorsing, or attempting to gain public support in the interpretation of a certain religion, where such interpretation are in deviation, while what Meliana and previous victims did are do not meet these points.


Moreover, before a person can be prosecuted for doing a blasphemous act under the Article 1, they must receive a warning under Article 2(1) from the Ministry of Religion, the Attorney General and the Ministry of Home Affairs. If the person got the warning and still continue to breach the Article 1, they can be prosecuted and, if convicted, imprisoned for a maximum of five years. In other words, the Law is actually consisting an educational element to distinguish a person with intention to violate a religion and a person with no such violation intention. By analyzing Meliana’s case, it is clear that Blasphemy Law is now performed without taken the warning feature into its praxis.


Furthermore, there are two main points else that need to be discussed in the case of Meliana, which is narrowed on the topic of the objection. First of all is the objection of Meliana’s act. What Meliana ask here is focused on the loudness level of the Mosque speaker. The atrribute of the Azan and not the Azan itself. Even Jusuf Kalla, who is also a member of the Mosque Council formed in 2015, called on mosques to use their public system wisely and to review mosques’ use of loudspeakers and regulate their use and volume. The question here is: Why Jusuf Kalla is not being accused to do blasphemous act as what Meliana has been faced? Is it because he is Moslem whereas Meliana is a Buddhist?


It is clear that conviction that someone is doing blasphemous act here is strongly related to selective anger. In-group critics like what Jusuf Kalla did through Mosque Council are generally received more positively and legitimate rather than out-group critics, even when the content of the criticism is identical. In other words, it is okay if we say that, but you can not. The reason behind this effect is that inter-group critics are perceived to have different motivations than outgroup critics.


In-group critics, like how people see Jusuf Kalla’s advice, are attributed with positive motives. People believe that Jusuf Kalla is genuinely want to tell the advice for the goodness of the society. On the other hand, out-group critics, like what Meliana did, are instead attributed with destructive motives. She was percieved attempting to demoralize the group or struggling for a supremacy, leading to resistance and rejection. Thus, responses to criticism are said to be driven not by what people say, but why are they are perceived to be saying it.


The second point is objection of the legal decision. The court has traditionally been viewed as holding no influence over either the purse or the sword. Court is even mentioned as the temple of justice. The question now is: To what extent we can believe that the juridicial decision is being made by altering the social pressure? In fact, a study conducted by Shai Danziger, Jonathan  Levav and Liora Avnaim-Pesso found that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions such as psychological, political, and social factors including social pressure and public opinions.


A similar result comes from Matthew Hall, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame, who found that US Supreme Court is relatively independent when deciding cases related to criminal prosecution, civil liability, or judicial administration. However, the court is more constrained when trying to alter policy when those cases may potentially attract public interest. Generally speaking, valuing an act as blasphemous is highly subjective. Performing a law on something perceptual that has no strong and objective basis is very dangerous for the country.


Related to this religious blasphemy issue, the saddest thing is probably the silence of our national leaders. The president cannot and even prohibited to intervene the law process. However, he can and need to make a clear statement about the importance of religious tolerance. Too bad that the opposition leaders has no such initiative, too. It is the right time to underline our national identity as a tolerance country. Making such bold statement will notify the presence of Pancasila in the middle of chaotic circumstances. Otherwise, the silence of the government and opposition leaders are the sign of acceptance of intolerance in Indonesia. In the case of blasphemy law, silence is not gold.


Written by:

Jony Eko Yulianto, S.Psi., M.A.

Lecturer at School of Psychology of Universitas Ciputra

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