APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020

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APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019

Indonesia’s population of 263 million is 87.2% Muslim, 12.9% of the world’s Muslim population. Around 7% of the remaining population are Protestant, 2.9% are Catholic, 1.7% are Hindu and the remaining 0.9% are Buddhist, Confucian or follow another beliefs.

Indonesia has a long tradition of religious pluralism, with the government historically promoting a tolerant ideology of Pancasila comprised of five principles: monotheism, civilized humanity, national unity, deliberative democracy, and social justice.

However, in recent years, this tradition of tolerance has come under threat. While Article 29 of the Indonesian constitution ‘guarantees the independence of each resident to embrace religion and worship according to their respective religions and beliefs,’ the government only recognises six official religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.

For unauthorised religions, it remains difficult to gain access to a range of government services. Their adherents must first register with one of the six official religions in order to obtain the necessary national identification cards. This forces many to renounce their faith in favour of such access.

Articles 156 and 156(a) of Indonesia’s penal code criminalise blasphemy. The government rejected recommendations made during its last United Nations Universal Periodic Review to repeal the blasphemy law and ignored a petition brought by nine Ahmadis in July 2018 relating to the same issue.The Indonesian government argue that many of its policies that violate FoRB are fundamental in the prevention of religious conflict.

There is evidence however to suggest that such policies have led to interreligious tensions in recent years. For instance, Grace Natalie, the Christian chairwoman of the Indonesian Solidarity Party, was accused of blasphemy for opposing Sharia-based laws in Tangerang, near Jakarta, in November 2018,238 while an ethnic Chinese Indonesian woman spent almost a year in prison on a similar charge after alleged comments were made on the volume of the speakers at a Mosque in Tanjung Balai. Worryingly, in November 2018, Bakor Pakem, a body that oversees religious affairs in the Indonesian Attorney General’s office, introduced an app with the purpose of providing citizens with the capacity to report cases of suspected ‘’religious heresy’’ on their mobile devices.

Despite an overarching commitment to religious pluralism, the Indonesian political sphere has been increasingly infiltrated by hard-line and intolerant Islamist groups. These groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesian Council of Ulema, subscribe to an uncompromising and conservative interpretation of Islam which continues to attack the stability of the Pancasila ideology. These groups have frequently targeted religious minorities such as Christians and Ahmadis.

The Indonesian General Election in April 2019 deepened religious unrest. Despite an eventual win for the moderate incumbent Joko Widodo, the election was marred by exploitative religious-nationalist rhetoric, predominantly from radical Islamic opportunists.

Nevertheless, the actions of Widodo himself have exemplified the influence of the rising sentiment of intolerance in his choosing of Ma’ruf Amin as his Vice-Presidential running mate. Amin is a powerful cleric known for his drafting and vocal support of fatwas which have detrimentally affected the rights of religious minorities. Commentators have suggested that a significant legacy point for Widodo during this current term of government will be the effectiveness with which he can quell the rise of hard-line Islamic radicalism – both within government and amongst the wider public.

Local authorities in Muslim-majority provinces have also tended to succumb to pressure from radical Muslim groups. This was the case in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta’s Special Region, where a newly-issued religious permit received by a Christian church was revoked in the aftermath of protests and threats on 26 July 2019. This example mirrored an earlier revocation in the Cengkareng district of West Jakarta on the grounds that the church was in too close a proximity to a mosque, an Islamic boarding school, and houses owned by clerics.

Indonesia has also been the subject of increasing external pressures which have in turn influenced the underlying religious sentiments of the country. Most profoundly, Saudi Arabia has continued to increase its economic stake in the country with the intention of infusing its ideological interpretation of Islam. The most obvious example of this is the Saudi-funded Institute for the Study of Islam and Arabic, which teaches the fundamentalist Wahhabi theology and segregates classes on gender lines.

FCO Human Rights Report 2019

Indonesia is currently not a Human Rights Priority Country for the UK government.

In the UK Parliament, 2020


Louise Haigh 13 March;

USCIRF report 2021

US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2020