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Indonesia constitutional court upholds controversial anti-blasphemy law

[JURIST] The Indonesian Constitutional Court [official website, in Bahasa] voted 8-1 Monday to uphold [judgment, PDF, in Bahasa; press release, in Bahasa] a controversial anti-blasphemy law enacted in 1965 by the first Indonesian president. The court rejected the legal challenge raised by a coalition of human rights groups and social activists supporting [NYT report] the Wahid Organization, a civil organization that advocates for religious pluralism in Indonesia. Critics of the law, titled Presidential Decree for the Prevention of Blasphemy and the Desecration of Religions, argued that it is used to discriminate against minorities and violates freedom of religion. Eight of the judges found that the law is necessary to maintain public order and is respectful of the principle of religious freedom, called Pancasila in Indonesia. Dissenting judge Maria Farida, the first ever female member of the court, reasoned that the law should be revoked because it is at odds with the constitution since it only recognizes six religions and is used arbitrarily to suppress all other religions.

Blasphemy laws [JURIST news archive] have been a controversial issue in several countries. Last month, the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform proposed a referendum [JURIST report] to remove the criminal offense of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution [text, PDF]. Blasphemy is a punishable offense under section 40 of the constitution, but the language of the text had been deemed too vague to hold any prosecutions. In February, a Pakistani government official said that the country would begin to revise its blasphemy laws [JURIST report] later this year. Pakistan currently punishes blasphemy against Islam by death, but no one has yet been executed for the offense. Last year, the death sentence of Afghan journalism student Sayad Parwaz Kambaksh [JURIST news archive] for blasphemy was reduced [JURIST report] to 20 years' imprisonment by an Afghan appeals court. Kambaksh was sentenced to death [JURIST report] for distributing papers questioning gender roles under Islam. In 2008, the UK House of Lords voted to abolish [JURIST report] the criminal offenses of blasphemy and blasphemous libel from the UK common law.

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