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Work in progress

The Challenges of Religious Freedom

An Indonesian Experience
Trisno S. Sutanto

“It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as

ours is to criticize the working of institutions which appear to be
both neutral and independent; to criticize them in such a manner
that the political violence which has always exercised itself
obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight

Michel Foucault*

This working paper first presented as a starting point for further discussion among
interfaith activists in Jakarta, Kalimantan, and North Sulawesi. What proposed in here are
only tentative analysis and conclusions to open new space for interfaith engagements in
dealing with the recent developments concerning the issues of religious freedom in my
country. I hope that this essay can trigger further debates, deeper analysis, and common
understanding of these complex issues.

On September 2005, after a long delay, the Indonesian government at last ratified both
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). 1 For many activists, this
ratification was seen rightly as the most significant moment in the struggle for human
rights in Indonesia. It is a moment for celebration, but also a moment for critical
reflection and deliberations. A moment of—if you want it—‘Kairos’.

I will focus mainly on ICCPR in this essay, because this international covenant,
especially article 18, directly deals with our main topic on the religious freedom. I will
not go into details about the intricacies and the legal matters of ICCPR itself. That’s
beyond my capacity. But ICCPR can be our starting point in discussing the radical
challenges to be faced if we really want to ensure an effective legal protection on this
fundamental religious right.

Maybe you have already familiar with the ICCPR. But let me quote the article 18(1) of
this covenant as our starting point: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or
belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in

Quoted from Paul Rabinow (ed.), Foucault Reader, New York: Pantheon Books,
1984, p. 6.
See Law No 11/2005 on the ratification of ICESCR and Law No 12/2005 on the
ratification of ICCPR.
public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and
teaching.” As stated in General Comment No 22 (par 1), the ‘official’ interpretation of
ICCPR, “The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (which includes the
freedom to hold beliefs) in article 18(1) is far reaching and profound…”2 The second
paragraph of the General Comment No 22 gives us the scope of rights to be protected by
article 18 of ICCPR that needs to be quoted in full:

“Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the

right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms ‘belief’ and ‘religion’ are to
be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional
religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices
analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with
concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason,
including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious
minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant
religious community.”

I am quoting this document in full because, precisely, it is in the contested meanings of

‘religion’ and ‘belief’ that the whole complexity of the religious freedom in Indonesia can
be grasped. You can sense the difficulties in the complex formulation quoted above. How
to differentiate between the so-called theistic, non-theistic, or even atheistic beliefs, as
well as freedom not to profess any of these beliefs? No, this question is not a matter of
semantics, or for academic exercises and interests. We can have, literally speaking, an
endless debate on this issue. But the core problem lays more in a down to earth level, in a
concrete and practical way to protect these fundamental rights. And nowadays, after the
fall of Soeharto regime in 1998, these problems of how religion and belief were construed
come out and challenge radically the very foundation of Indonesia as a multicultural

To understand this challenge I think we must go back, however briefly, to see how the
politics of agama (more about this term latter) were done by the State, especially during
Soeharto and his so-called ‘new order’ regime. I believe that until now we are still
struggling with this Soeharo’s legacy. Even though he is not longer in the office, actually
Soeharto’s regime of power as well as—thanks to Foucault who made us understand the
nexus—his ‘regime of truth’ is still intact and runs deeply in the very fabrics of the

Politics of ‘agama’
Of course, as you already know, the Indonesian word ‘agama’ is used as a translation of
‘religion’. But as Jane Monnig Atkinson cautioned us many years ago in her already
classic and illuminating essay, the word ‘agama’ has a very distinctive meaning in
Indonesia.3 This word, heavily colored by Muslim and Christian understanding, must be

See Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, General Comment No. 22:
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 18), 30/07/93,
accepted in the 48th Assembly, 1993.
Jane Monnig Atkinson, “Religions in Dialogue: The Construction of an Indonesian
Minority Religion”, in Rita Smith Kipp and Susan Rodgers (eds.), Indonesian Religions
in Transition, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 171 – 186. For a

understood as ‘state-recognized religion’ vis-à-vis those who are called ‘belum
beragama’, i.e., ‘people who do not yet posses a religion’. Or, to be more precise, people
who do not yet converted into one of the state-recognized religions. As Atkinson noted
very well, “The negative belum is significant here, for it implies that conversion to a
recognized religion is inevitable. Whereas one would not assert that someone of one
ethnic group was ‘not yet’ a member of another ethnic group or that a member of one
recognized religion was ‘not yet’ a member of another religion, there is an imperative for
a person who has not converted to an officially approved religion to do so.”4

Thus, ‘agama’ actually covers a narrower range than its English counterpart, because
many people, who practice ancestor worship, animism, local beliefs, etc., were (and still
are) considered as ‘belum beragama’. What, then, is agama? Actually it was in 1961 that
Ministry of Religion (Kementerian Agama, now Departemen Agama or Depag) proposed
what then becomes ‘official’ definition of agama until now: agama must contain a belief
in One almighty God, posses a prophet and a holy book, and has a community of
believers. This official definition, of course, borrowed mainly from the monotheistic
Abrahamic religions, especially Islam and Christianity understanding, and serves as a
means of denying, particularly, the status of Javanese mysticism at that time.

In his already classic book, Niels Mulder pointed out that this definition was formulated
to counter the then bourgeoning various mysticism since early 1950s.5 In 1953, Depag
reported the existence of 360 ‘new religions’ or ‘mystical sects’ (kelompok kebatinan)
across Java that played significant role in the results of the1955 general election.
Nationwide, Islamic political parties got only 42 per cent, and thus ended the myth of
Indonesia, especially Java, as an Islamic country. At the same time, BKKI (Badan
Kongres Kebatinan seluruh Indonesia) was established as an organizing body for the
convention of the kebatinan groups throughout Indonesia under the leadership of Mr.
Wongsonegoro, partially as a reaction against the creation of PAKEM (Pengawas Aliran
Kepercayaan Masyarakat, or Supervision of the mystical beliefs’ systems in society) by
Depag.6 In 1957, BKKI urged Soekarno to recognize kebatinan formally as equal with
religions. It was against this background that Depag formulated the official definition of
agama, after the same effort in 1952 failed because the opposition done mainly by the
Balinese Hinduism.

I think it is helpful to look at these contestations in a more detailed way, because it was
during this period of socio-political turbulence the basic framework of the ‘politics of
agama’ was laid down and later effectively used by Soeharto for his creation of the so-
called ‘New Order’. The creation of PAKEM in 1954 and the Presidential Stipulation
(now: Law) No 1/PNPS/1965 issued by Soekarno were illuminating in this context. These
two instruments, as I will show later, are the very foundation of the politics of agama
until now with its far-reaching consequences for religious freedom in Indonesia.

critical discussion on this, see Albert Schrauwers’ illuminating book, Colonial

‘Reformation’ in the Highlands of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, 1892 – 1995, Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2000.
Atkinson, op.cit, p. 177.
Here I am following Niels Mulder’s account. See his classic study, Mysticism and
Everyday Life in Contemporary Java: Cultural Persistence and Change, Singapore:
Singapore University Press, 1978, pp. 4 – 9.
See Eka Darmaputera, Pancasila and the Search for Identity and Modernity in
Indonesian Context, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988, p. 84.

During Ali Sastroamidjojo’s office as Prime Minister (1953 – 1955), the first initiatives
were taken so that the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General can control this
powerful body in ‘supervising’ and ‘giving guidance’ for people’s beliefs, by introducing
the interdepartmental committee for investigating beliefs in society through SK No
167/PROMOSI/1954. Then in 1958, the office of Attorney General created a special
division for monitoring religious and aliran kepercayaan in society. Two years later, this
division became the central bureau of PAKEM. Since that time, PAKEM was kept under
the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General, instead of Depag. In 1960, MPRS
(Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat Sementara, the Temporary People’s Consultative
Assembly) issued Decree No II/MPRS/1960, outlining the pattern of the first national
development plan, 1961 – 1969. This decree also gave clear guidance on the core jobs of
the ‘Investigating Body on Religions and Aliran Kepercayaan’, i.e.:
a. Channeling Belief/Religion to the well-behaved views (pandangan yang
b. Channeling the development of Belief/Religion to the belief in One God
(Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa);
c. Protecting the safety and spiritual well being of Indonesian society.
This decree, as noted by Ahmad Baso, gave foundation for the creation of the basic law
regarding state prosecutors’ office 1961, in which the job for monitoring religious and
beliefs’ groups became one of the most essential jobs.7 These jobs, basically, are still
retained even in the newer law regarding the state prosecutors (UU No 16/2004).
According to article 30(3) of that law, an essential part of the state prosecutors’ jobs is to
maintain ‘stability and order’, and this includes, inter alia, ‘monitoring mystical beliefs
movement that can be dangerous to people and the state, preventing the misuse and/or
insult to religion’!

PAKEM was (and until now still is) proved to be one of the most powerful means to
monitor, and at the same time to control religious/beliefs groups. It has nationwide
coverage, especially since the circulation of Letter of Instruction issued by PAKEM
Central Bureau No 34/Pakem/S.E./61 dated April 7, 1961, to all district attorney’s offices,
instructed them to established local PAKEM branches in all provinces throughout the
country. Thus, the state now has the most powerful, nationwide, and systematic means to
follow, giving attention, and control all the movement and development of all
religious/beliefs and mystical groups. This body can investigate religious books,
brochures, tracts, and materials produced in Indonesia or imported from foreign countries.
PAKEM, really, was (and still is) the ‘supreme body’ who has unlimited power to judge
which aliran keagamaan dan/atau kepercayaan (religious and/or mystical beliefs’
systems) is sesat dan menyesatkan (‘deviant and deviating’), and thus conceived as
‘dangerous’ to the people. In the case of ‘Haur Koneng’, a mystical sect flourished in
Western Java in 1990s, one of the government officials gave an illuminating comment
that need to be quoted in full:

“Whether one religious school of thought (aliran keagamaan) is deviant or not,

the case will be decided by the meeting of PAKEM. The police will have an
authority to act against the adherents of the religious school of thought only if
the meeting of PAKEM, which consists officials from the state prosecutors,

See Ahmad Baso, Islam Pascakolonial: Perselingkuhan Agama, Kolonialisme, dan
Liberalisme, Bandung: Mizan, 2005, pp. 240ff.

Depag, local government and police has decided that one religious school of
thought was considered as a deviant or misleading one (aliran sesat). Further the
banning will be done by the Attorney General office.”8
With this unlimited power, literally hundreds of aliran were ‘killed’. Soeparman, S.H., at
that time the head of Public Relations division within the Attorney General office, told
KOMPAS daily newspaper that, “from 1949 to 1992, there were 517 aliran kepercayaan
‘dead’ throughout Indonesia” (KOMPAS, August 5, 1993).

Really, it is impossible to enumerate all the killings done by this ‘killing machine’. But
one thing is sure, PAKEM became the most powerful machine when it was seen together
with Presidential Stipulation No 1/PNPS/1965, signed by Soekarno, concerning the
prevention of the misuse of and/or insult to religion. This Presidential Stipulation, later,
after the mass killings of PKI members, was formalized by Soeharto, by Law No 5/1969,
to become Law No 1/PNPS/1965 and provided the most fundamental legal basis for all
politics of agama until now. Article 1 of this law—actually the most popular one of all
articles in this law—prohibits anyone from deliberately making interpretations of any of
the recognized religions in Indonesia or publicly engaging in activities which deviate
from those religions; such interpretations and activities being contrary to, and deviating
from ‘the true teachings’ of those religions. Of course, we can raise the crucial question:
who can decide which are ‘the true teachings’ of the recognized religions? Well,
according to the official interpretation, the so-called true teachings can be known “by
Ministry of Religion which has a means for it”!9

This famous article, then, was incorporated into Indonesian penal law (KUHP) as article
156a, and used effectively by the state and/or by formal religious institutions—usually
they work together, side by side, and supporting each other’s interests. Donald J. Porter 10
once noted how effective Law No 1/PNPS/1965 in the hands of Soeharto’s regime to
build his ‘corporatist state’, his ‘politics of harmonizing’, and how these efforts was also
serve the interest of the formal religious institution. He pointed out Religious Minister’s
Instruction No 8/1979 as an illuminating example. In this instruction, the Attorney
General, the Department of Internal Affairs, Bakin (army intelligence), regional
governments, MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, Indonesian Ulama Council, a government-

Quoted from Daniel Dhakidae, Cendekiawan dan Kekuasaan Dalam Negara Orde
Baru, Jakarta: Gramedia, 2003, pp. 559 – 560.
The whole text of the Law No 1/PNPS/1965 and its official interpretation can be
found in Weinata Sairin, M.Th. (ed.), Himpunan Peraturan di Bidang Keagamaan,
Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1996, pp. 262 – 268. Quotation from p. 267. This book
collects almost all laws and state’s regulations on religious matters. A glimpse into
the list can give you a bird’s view of how effective PAKEM, Depag, Attorney General
and Law No 1/PNPS/1965 used by the state to control almost all aspects of religious
life in Indonesia, from building places of worship, politics of ‘harmonizing’ inter-
religious relations, missionary activities, foreign support, aliran kepercayaan, etc.
Unfortunately until now, as far as I know, there is still no systematic and
comprehensive study on the whole politics of agama reflected in these laws and
regulations, as well as its consequences, even though recent efforts have been done
in that direction. I will speak more about these recent efforts later, near the end of
my presentation.
Donald J. Porter, Managing Politics and Islam in Indonesia, London and New York:
RoutledgeCurzon, 2002. This book gives an excellent summary and discussion on
how the politics of Islam were done and managed by Soeharto, an issue that I do not
touch here in my paper.

financed body established in July 1975 to incorporate ulamas, i.e., Muslim leaders, into
Soeharto’s ‘corporatist state’) and other Islamic institutions were to provide intensive
‘reorientation, guidance and surveillance’ of Islamic organizations and movements that
were found to be in conflict with Islamic doctrine. These so-called ‘deviating’ groups
were to be guided back onto the ‘correct path of Islamic teachings’.11

Recent cases indicate how this close collaboration can become a very effective weapon to
silence those ‘suspicious’ religious movements and groups. Take, for instance, the attacks
and banning of JAI (Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation), the trials of Yusman Roy in
East Java, Sumardi in West Sulawesi, and of Lia Eden’s Community in Jakarta.12 I will
not go into detailed analysis on these cases here. But, I think, if we look at these cases
closely enough, we can see the same recurring pattern of how PAKEM body in the
Attorney General office and Law No 1/PNPS/1965 (or article 156a KUHP) are used
effectively by close collaboration between the state apparatuses and formal religious
institutions (in these cases: MUI).

Layers of problem
Let me tell you more about the attack on JAI’s compound last year, because for many
interfaith activists that was really a ‘turning point’ in contemporary Indonesia that could
give us a clearer picture of what recently happened, and layers of crucial problem if we
really want to promote religious freedom. I believe that since the attack on JAI and the
issuance of recent fatwa (authoritative theological and legal opinion by ulama) from MUI
that labeled ‘Secularism, Liberalism, and Pluralism’ as haram (prohibited and forbidden
according to Islamic law), the basic problems of religious freedom came to the fore and
became widely debated issues.

Ibid, p. 63, quoting from Instruksi Menteri Agama No 8/1979 Tentang Pembinaan,
Bimbingan Dan Pengawasan Terhadap Organisasi Dan Aliran Dalam Islam Yang
Bertentangan Dengan Ajaran Islam.
Yusman Roy, an ex boxer that converted into Islam, taught his followers to do
their shalat (obligatory five times prayer in Islam) in ‘bi-lingual’, i.e., in Arabic and
Indonesian. He himself prefers Indonesian language because, as some witnesses told
me, he did not master the Arabic language yet. Sumardi, a teacher graduated from
faculty of tarbiyah (Islamic education) in West Sulawesi, taught his students to
perform shalat by whistling, even though he did not make it obligatory (wajib). Lia’s
Eden Community is actually a ‘new age’ phenomenon. Lia Aminuddin, formerly
famous as flower arranger, claimed that she received ‘revelations from Archangel
Gabriel’ (malaikat Jibril), declared herself as Siti Maryam (Mary, mother of Jesus),
her son as Prophet Isa, a.s. (Jesus Christ), and her closest assistant as Imam Mahdi,
the mysterious eschatological figure, later become the spirit of Muhammad. She
attracted some followers because, as some of them told me, she could perform
‘miracles’. She then formed Salamullah congregation—later named as ‘God’s
Kingdom of Eden’. Thus, she was known as ‘Lia Eden’. I will tell about JAI in a more
detail later. In all of these cases MUI, involving PAKEM, claimed that ‘bi-lingual
shalat’, ‘whistling shalat’, and Lia Eden’s activities are causing ‘restlessness in
society’ (keresahan dalam masyarakat) and thus ‘dangerous’. All of them then tried
according to article 156a of KUHP. Lia Aminuddin recently sentenced three years in
prison. I would like to thank my friend, Hamid Basyaib, the recent coordinator of JIL
(Liberal Islamic Network) in Jakarta, who sent me his summary of these cases in his
draft paper, “Islam or Indonesia? Some Recent Cases of Intolerance”, presented at
the conference on “Human Rights and Renewal of the Religious Discourse”,
Alexandria, Egypt, April 18-20, 2006.

In the mid of July 2005, JAI convened their 46th Jalsah Salanah (yearly gathering) in
their compound at Parung, Bogor, not far from Jakarta. Suddenly, hundreds of people
who claimed themselves as ‘representatives of Islamic ummah’ came, attacked and
occupied JAI’s compound. The attack itself was broadcasted directly by national
television. Hundreds of police who were stationed there did not do anything to prevent
the attack. On contrary, they just evacuated JAI members out of the compound. After
that, they put ‘police line’ surrounding the compound—and left it empty until now. A
week after the attack, the national gathering of MUI, instead of condemning that brutal
attack, issued a fatwa No 11/Munas VII/MUI/15/2005 that Ahmadiyah is a ‘deviant and
deviating’ (sesat dan menyesatkan) sect.13 Actually since that time the words ‘sesat dan
menyesatkan’ became so popular.

Here I do not want to get involved in all intricacies both within Islamic theological and
jurisprudence (fiqh) concerning the problems of Ahmadiyah. I know that, in Islam,
without any ‘churchly’, i.e., a kind of hierarchy and institutional experience, problems
like Ahmadiyah or other ‘sects’ are really very difficult to handle. But I think it is more
illuminating to look at this Ahmadiyah case from another perspective: the failure of the
state’s obligation to secure the fundamental rights of its citizen. Here we can see clearly a
banal ‘politics of neglect’ on the part of the state, not only on the Ahmadiyah’s case but
also in other cases as well.

Thus, in the attack of JAI, the state did not do anything to prevent. Or even, as noted by
some reports, the state’s bureaucracies, from PAKEM, local government, and the police
were, directly or not, involved in these matters.14 It is interesting to note that in the report
of REPUBLIKA, a conservative Islamic daily newspaper, Hussein Umar, one of the
leaders from FUI (Islamic Ummah Forum) confessed to the press that on January 18,
2005, i.e., six months before the attacks on JAI, there was a meeting in the PAKEM
office of Attorney-General that decided that both Qadiani and Lahore Ahmadiyah’s
movement were forbidden in all parts of Indonesia (REPUBLIKA, September 16, 2005).
We can see the same recurring pattern in the cases of Yusman Roy’s ‘bi-lingual shalat’,
Sumardi ‘whistling shalat’, Lia Eden’s community, or in the closings of churches. So, for
instance, the Western Java chief of police (Kapolda Jawa Barat), Irjen Pol. Edi Darmadi
bluntly told TEMPO news magazine that, “No church’s buildings have been closed, only
some places that have been used as places of worship” (TEMPO, September 11, 2005, p.

This kind of a banal ‘politics of neglect’ done by the state becomes more problematic
when we placed within two other layers of problem: Firstly, the lack of legally binding
products to ensure the rights of minority groups even though the government already

Actually, this fatwa is reinforcing the older fatwa issued in 1980 (No
05/Kep/Munas/MUI/1980). Maybe it should be noted that JAI existence was legally
recognized by the state (Ministry of Justice decree No JA5/23/13 dated 13 March
1953) long before the establishment of MUI in July 1975. In the same fatwa, MUI
condemned ‘Secularism, Liberalism, and Pluralism’ as haram.
Until now, sporadic attacks to JAI members are still going on. In the western part
of the island of Lombok, the local government (Bupati) even issued a letter (No
13/2001) that ban all the activities of Ahmadiyah’s movement in this area. Some
members of Ahmadiyah already applied for asylums in other countries, like Australia.
See special analysis by MEDIA INDONESIA daily newspaper, 1 September 2006.

ratified both ICCPR and ICESCR. Also, one of the most significant achievements of the
post-Soeharto era is the amendment of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution (UUD 45). In
the second amendment (in the year 2000), all of the provisions of human rights were
included. The amended version contains the most liberal provisions of religious freedom,
because the article 28E(2) guaranteed the right to freedom of belief, and of expressing
thoughts and attitudes, based upon their own consciences (“Setiap orang berhak atas
kebebasan meyakini kepercayaan, menyatakan pikiran dan sikap, sesuai dengan hati
nuraninya”). Thus, constitutionally and legally speaking, the most fundamental rights,
i.e., the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, already have a secured

But however impressive these achievements are, when we look deeper into it we can find
that actually, until now, there is no legal mechanism or legally binding products to put
into practice these constitutional guarantees. In other words, these constitutional
guarantees are still in the ethical-normative sphere as fundamental principles—but not
applicable at all. Also, as I explored above, the basic mechanisms of ‘politics of agama’
inherited from Soeharto’s regime of ‘corporatist state’ are still in place: PAKEM as the
‘supreme body’, Law No 1/PNPS/1965 (also article 156a of KUHP), the power of state
prosecutors to maintain ‘stability and order’ by ‘monitoring’ and ‘preventing the misuse
and/or insult to religion’.

And finally, the other layer is what has been called by Hamid Basyaib as ‘the growing
intolerance, conservatism, and radicalism in Islam’ that posed the most radical challenge
on the future of Indonesia. In celebrating the 61st anniversary of the Indonesian
independence, TEMPO published a special report titled ‘Can We Live Together?’
(TEMPO, August 2006). That title expressed what concern us most. We realize more than
ever how the practices of intolerance have deeper roots in our society. The annual survey
done by PPIM, an Islamic social research institute affiliated with the State Islamic
University ‘Syarif Hidayatullah’, in cooperation with JIL and Freedom Institute, already
gave alarming signs on these practices of intolerance—especially in the relation between
Muslim and Christian communities. The recent findings are really shocked us. Around 41
percent of Muslim respondents feel uncomfortable if their Christian neighbors made
worship, and more than 51 percent will reject the efforts of their Christian neighbors to
build church in their community. Compared with the findings of the 2001 and 2002
surveys, there are almost no significant changes in the percentages.15

Recently this growing tendency of ‘intolerance and radicalism’ becomes more complex
and dangerous with the controversies surrounding the draft of anti-pornography bill
(Rancangan Undang-Undang Anti Pornografi dan Pornoaksi or RUU APP, nicknamed
as ‘RUU Porno’) proposed by MUI that heavily colored by the language of Islamic fiqh,
and what has been called by Goenawan Mohamad, the most prominent essayist and ex
editor-in-chief of TEMPO, as ‘creeping Talibanism’ through the introduction of shariah
in local government’s regulations (peraturan daerah or Perda).16 Last April, for the first

For a more detailed presentation of this survey, see Saiful Mujani,, Benturan
Peradaban: Sikap dan Perilaku Islamis Indonesia terhadap Amerika Serikat, Jakarta:
Nalar, 2005, pp 67. See also Jakarta Post, 12 November 2004.
Actually, ‘RUU Porno’ already proposed by MUI since 1998, during Habibie’s
presidency after the fall of Soeharto. This draft defined pornography (and
pornographic acts) in a very loose and ambiguous way: every act, attitudes, or even
how people dress that gives ‘indication’ (disangka) of eroticism and indecency were

time in Indonesian history, ‘Kartini’s day’ was celebrated by all people from diverse
background, not only women’s activists, to counter these threatening tendencies of ‘RUU
Porno’ and ‘creeping Talibanism’. (Before, during Soeharto’s regime, this celebration of
‘Kartini’s day’ was nicknamed as a theatre for ‘State-Ibuism’ by women’s activists.)
Thousands of people showed up in this peaceful and colorful mass demonstration,
because many people sensed that these two particular issues already touched the very
foundation of multiculturalism in Indonesia. For example, Balinese people and even local
government officials there warned that, if ‘RUU Porno’ became a legal bill, they would
separate themselves from Indonesia. Because of this warning, MMI (Majelis Mujahiddin
Indonesia, or Indonesian Holy Warrior Assembly) issued a threatening message that they
will go and make jihad war in Bali.

Ensuring religious human rights

I believe that it is against this background that the problems of religious freedom in
Indonesia must be placed. Without political decisiveness on the part of the government,
without any legal mechanism and legally binding products to protect the minority rights,
and in the context of the ‘growing intolerance’ in the societal level, talking about
religious freedom can easily become wishful dreams. So, now, what must be done?

To tell you the truth, I do not have the answer. But, for me, the banal ‘politics of neglect’
done by the state should be considered as the most fundamental problem. Without any
political decisiveness on the part of the state, and in a context the burgeoning of
paramilitary groups after the fall of Soeharto with their primordial aspirations, the
democratic transition in Indonesia could only lead into chaotic situation of ‘negara
preman’, a ‘messy’ state.17 For instance, last May, members of Jurist Makara, an
organization for jurists and alumni of the Faculty of Law from University of Indonesia,
sent a public petition that urged the government, especially the police, to take decisive
and strict action against those people who brutally attacked Ahmadiyah’s members, the
churches, the Eden’s community, or other similar cases. They said that if the government
failed to provide safety to its citizens, then they appealed to all the people to be prepared

classified as pornographies and pornographic acts, and thus punishable. The

controversies came to fore when one of the MUI’s chairmen told mass media, that
the ethnic dresses that indicate any eroticism are ‘better to be kept in museums’! It
is also interesting to note that, both TEMPO and GATRA, two prominent news
magazines, published similar reports. According to GATRA (6 May 2006, pp. 20 –
32), the formalization of shariah through Perda is a fundamental step to established
‘shariah country’ (negeri syariah) even though, maybe, not the ‘Islamic state’.
TEMPO (14 May 2006, p. 29) listed at least 22 cities and regencies that already
established ‘Perda heavily colored by shariah’. Most of it, if not all, mainly regulates
how to handle the problems of social’s ills like prostitution, narcotics, and drunk. But,
when you read carefully enough, these regulations tend to discriminate women as
well as minority groups.
New York Times, 3 October 2000. A fascinating exploration on this issue can be
found in Henk Schulte Nordholt’s illuminating essay, “A Genealogy of Violence”, in
Freek Colombijn and J. Thomas Lindblad (eds.), Roots of Violence in Indonesia,
Singapore: ISEAS, 2002, pp. 33 – 62. For a more detailed studies on the burgeoning
of premanisme (vigilantism), see researches done by ISAI, Premanisme Politik,
Jakarta: Institut Arus Studi Informasi, 2000, also by The Ridep Institute in S.
Yumanto,, Militant Islamic Movements in Indonesia and South-East Asia,
Jakarta: Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and The Ridep Institute, 2003.

living in the jungle, i.e., without any rule of law, and so “be self-prepare to resolve the
problems themselves by any means necessary.” (KOMPAS, May 15, 2006)

Secondly, one of the most urgent needs to be dealt with is how to set up legal framework
to put into practice constitutional guarantees on religious freedom. The ratification of
ICCPR and ICESR could be a ‘moment of Kairos’ in this context. Today, more than ever
in Indonesian history, a growing number of people decided to come out, telling the public
openly their experiences of discriminatory practices done by the state, challenging the
inherited ‘politics of agama’, and taking some initiatives to broaden strategic alliances to
meet this urgent need. For instance, there are countless media reports now about the
discriminatory practices done by the state against people who are still—using official
phrase—‘belum beragama’, i.e. those who still hold their traditional beliefs.18 During
Soeharto’s regime, especially after 1970s, the state never recognized their marriages. The
time has come for them to speak out their rights as citizen. Efforts have been taken to
reform the Law of civil record (UU Catatan Sipil) that will oblige the state to record their
marriages—without any consideration of their beliefs.

Take another example. After the ratification of ICCPR and ICESR, human rights and
interfaith activists joined together in efforts to appeal for judicial review of Law No
1/PNPS/1965, proposing a reform of article 156a of KUHP, and made initiative to
develop legal drafts concerning Anti Discrimination and Religious Freedom Bills. We are
still in the midst of struggle and nobody ever sure what will happen with these initiatives.
The issues of religious freedom really touched the deepest nerves in our society. I will
give a brief comment on this to finish my presentation.

I think that one of the most difficult obstacles in promoting the issue of religious freedom
in Indonesia is that many people still consider this issue as a nice cover for missionary
activities (so-called Kristenisasi) to convert Muslim people. This was the reason why,
during the Abdurrahman Wahid’s presidency (1999 – 2001), the effort by Tolhah Hasan,
Minister of Religion at that time, to ratify the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of
All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief failed,
because the opposition by major Islamic political parties. The issue of the so-called
‘Kristenisasi’ was, and still is, one of the best political weapons, even though many
efforts have been done to deconstruct this persistent political game. Even during natural
disasters like tsunami in Aceh and earthquake in Yogyakarta, some radical groups used
this issue for their own interests.

Of course, these misunderstandings can become the most difficult obstacle for those who
want to promote religious freedom in Indonesia. Therefore, I believe that we need
concerted efforts to bring the issue of religious freedom more down-to-earth, contextually

See, for instance, reports published by GATRA (4 March 2006), FORUM KEADILAN
(No 50, 16 April 2006), special report by Agus Sopian, “Negara, Agama dan KTP”
(PLAYBOY Indonesia, April 2006, pp. 72 – 79), etc. For a more detailed case studies
on this issue, see Anas Saidi (ed.), Menekuk Agama, Membangun Tahta: Kebijakan
Agama Orde Baru, Jakarta: Desantara, 2004, pp. 197 – 346. This book, initially a
part of a larger research done by LIPI (Indonesian Science Academy), gave case
studies on discriminatory practices against the adherents of Confucianism, Darul
Arqam (the forbidden sect of Islam), Agama Djawi Sunda (a traditional belief held
mainly by the Sundanese people from West Java), Dayak’s local beliefs, and Jehovah
Witness in Christianity.

sensitive with the reality of Indonesia as a predominantly Muslim country. Recent efforts
by young Muslim activists (predominantly came from NU background) to rebuild a more
open and pluralistic theology of religions using their own traditions, and introducing the
issues of religious freedom into pesantren communities, should be noted and supported as
signs of hope.

In this context, Indonesian churches and particularly PGI can play significant role
together with their Muslim counterpart in building mutual trust and reweaving the fabrics
of our society. The issue of religious freedom is a calling for us to make critical
deliberations on how we can live together as a basic human community in ‘God’s Oikos’.
I hope this is not just my dream…

Jakarta, September 2006

Paper presented at 56th General Assembly of EKUMINDO,

14th – 16th September 2006, Stuttgart, Germany

Trisno S. Sutanto ( now works as Program Director of

MADIA, a society for inter-religious dialogue based in Jakarta, Indonesia. This working
paper is still in progress. Please do not cite without my permission.