Indep Arts Centre Under Attack from Religious Extremists/ Jakarta - Indonesia


Kommunitas Utan Kayu in Jakarta, Indonesia, has come under attack from religious extremists.

Artists from the art space and from the community have been camping out at the centre to protect the building:

Please send your words of solidarity to Community Utan Kayu, c/o Hasif Amini

On Monday, 6 September 2005, following fresh threats of violence from hardliners, the Utan Kayu Community (KUK) released a press statement read by its founder, Goenawan Mohamad. The statement is as follows:

1. We, as workers in the fields of culture, media, and education at Komunitas Utan Kayu, declare that we will continue our efforts to maintain and expand the freedom of thought and freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.

2. We reject all efforts to suppress differences in thought and religion.

3. We believe that difference of opinion is a God-given right. Further, that discussion and difference of opinion play a vital part in the democratization of our nation.

4. We will not accept any individual or group that uses the name of God to justify arbitrary threats and violence.

5. We will not allow harrassment and despotism to prevail thus dragging Indonesia to a state of lawlessness and anarchy.

6. We call upon the Indonesian security apparatus to protect the rule of law as mandated by the Constitution.

1.

In the last month, the Utan Kayu cultural centre in East Jakarta has been standing sentry against a planned attack by conservative Indonesian Muslim groups who feel that the centre’s Liberal Islam Network (JIL) has insulted them and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).

In a recent radio talk show, JIL co-founder Ulil Abshar Abdala has labeled the edicts issued by MUI "foolish." He publicly apologized for his statement, but defended his right to criticize the edicts.

Ulil pointed to several edicts that he felt were baseless, such as those banning pluralism and joint prayers, and especially the one declaring the Ahmadiyah sect to be a heretical movement, and its followers to be murtad (apostates).

"The Ahmadis have suffered from various physical and emotional pressures, such as intimidation, threats and the destruction of their mosques, while they are in fact a part of Islam," Ulil argued.

He said that the MUI should be reformed to better reflect Islam in Indonesia.

"The MUI itself has to reflect the variety of Islamic communities that are united in Islam despite the differences and diversity between Islamic sects," he said.

2.

The fatwas (edicts) issued by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) concerning intra and inter-religious issues in the country have generated concerns and criticisms from other scholars and the public, and clearly demonstrates that there is still a semantic and intellectual gap among the religious elites themselves about how to deal with religious diversity and freedom. Religious freedom does not seem to have won over the minds of many religious elites, or for that matter, the public in general.

The MUI fatwas that prohibit interfaith prayer, interfaith marriage, interfaith inheritance, religious pluralism, liberalism, secularism, and Ahmadiyah, are largely counter-productive to the ideals of freedom of religion and religious tolerance when one strand of religious interpretation has to be introduced to the public in order to attack other interpretations existing in the community.

While the edicts clearly contradict the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically one article of which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest this religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance", the problem is manifest in Indonesia’s vague constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

Article 28 (e) of the amended 1945 Constitution and article 22 of the Human Rights Law No. 39/1999 both touch upon freedom of religion, but provide no strong protections. They do not guarantee the freedom of religion as stipulated in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Human Rights Committee "jurisprudence".

They also do not define what it means to have freedom of religion, what the limitations are, and what the government’s obligations are to ensure that the constitutional provisions will be respected and can be adjudicated in a court of law.

More narrowly, the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) contains laws that are also vague and that conflict with religious freedoms, particularly the right to hold a differing interpretation of a religion.

Article 156 (a) of the KUHP imposes maximum 5 years in jail for "disgracing a religion". The problem is that "disgracing a religion" has been interpreted to include having a differing view or interpretation of a religious question. This law not only conflicts with supposed protections in the Constitution and 1999 Human Rights Law, but it also severely restricts the rights of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as stipulated in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Article 18 is intended to bar "coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert."

In a recent controversy, Article 156 (a) of the KUHP was applied by the police in Malang to investigate Muhammad Yusman Roy for conducting Islamic ritual prayers (shalat) in two languages, Arabic and Indonesian. In their investigation, the police referred to the MUI fatwa, which stated that it is against Islamic teachings and thus forbidden to use the Indonesian language when performing shalat prayers.

For Muhamad Yusman Roy, this was a matter of interpretation within Islam. For the clerics in the MUI, it was a matter of "disgracing" the religion. International human rights standards, which provide clear guarantees of religious freedom and interpretation, strongly favor Roy’s position, while vague and contradictory Indonesian laws create confusion and leave the matter to the discretion of the police.

A fatwa from the MUI declaring Ahmadiyah teachings to be against the Koran and thus forbidden was used by the IMS to justify a violent attack on Ahmadiyah. Not only is it inappropriate for groups to use coercion and take the law into their own hands, but it is the responsibility of the police to protect basic religious freedoms. Bogor police did not arrest any of the attackers. The authorities there rather ordered a halt to Ahmadiyah’s activities. The Attorney General, Abdul Rachman Saleh, even threatened to use his broad powers to ban organizations, teachings and books considered to be "disruptive to public order," against Ahmadiyah.

The government recognized Ahmadiyah as a legal entity in 1953. But the Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a circular to its regional offices labeling Ahmadiyah teachings as heresy because it recognizes its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a prophet.

Ahamadiyah denied all the allegations and stated that its teachings were not heresy.

Banning Ahmadiyah, with an estimated 500,000 followers, would be in clear violation of article 18 of the ICCPR. The government could be adjudicated at the Indonesian Administrative Court (PTUN) for imposing such a ban.

The weakness of the 1945 Constitution and the Human Rights Law, the existence of Article 156 (a) of the KUHP, the limited mandate of the Human Rights Court that has no power to adjudicate human rights cases outside "crimes of genocide" and "crimes against humanity," have all created serious legal uncertainties.

These uncertainties have created a life-threatening atmosphere for individuals or organizations that happen to have different interpretations of Islam from those decreed through MUI edicts.

MUI fatwas are not legally binding instruments and thus do not provide a legal foundation for authorities to infringe on religious freedoms.

3.

Clearly, MUI’s close relationship with the government and its perceived and actual authority among the Muslim populace has given it the license to monopolize religious interpretation. The danger cannot be overstated for a fatwa can have considerable implications for the attitude of many Muslims. Criticisms leveled by national Muslim leaders and the public against certain fatwas indicate that they are very much aware of the powerful role of such edicts on the minds and behavior of the Muslim community. A fatwa can influence followers to become violent and vandalistic. A fatwa that encourages intolerance can be used to justify the use of violence among religious followers as attested by the Utan Kayu Community’s current predicament.

On Monday, 6 September 2005, following fresh threats of violence from hardliners, the Utan Kayu Community (KUK) released a press statement read by its founder, Goenawan Mohamad. The statement is as follows:

1. We, as workers in the fields of culture, media, and education at Komunitas Utan Kayu, declare that we will continue our efforts to maintain and expand the freedom of thought and freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.

2. We reject all efforts to suppress differences in thought and religion.

3. We believe that difference of opinion is a God-given right. Further, that discussion and difference of opinion play a vital part in the democratization of our nation.

4. We will not accept any individual or group that uses the name of God to justify arbitrary threats and violence.

5. We will not allow harrassment and despotism to prevail thus dragging Indonesia to a state of lawlessness and anarchy.

6. We call upon the Indonesian security apparatus to protect the rule of law as mandated by the Constitution.

Komunitas Utan Kayu

1. Liberal Islam Network

2. Radio 68H

3. Teater Utan Kayu

4. Institut Studi Arus Informasi (ISAI, Institute for the Free-Flow of Information)

5. Lontar Gallery

6. Kalam Bookstore

7. Kalam Journal of Culture

8. Utan Kayu Library

9. Tempo Café

(Sources: Ridason Galingging, The Jakarta Post 12 August 05, Muhamad Ali, JP 8 August 05, JP 07 Sept 05)
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Modified on Thursday 8 September 2005