Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Even though the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, Indonesia needs tougher regulations to deal with religious hate speech that might lead to violence, rights activists say.
The executive director of the Indonesian Legal Resource Center, Uli Parulian Sihombing, said on Monday that hate speech was responsible for sparking religious conflict in the country.
"We need a regulation that can deter people from making hate speech without limiting the freedom of speech," he said in a discussion with The Jakarta Post on Monday.
He said that the current regulation against hate speech, Article 156 of the Criminal Code on spreading hate, was not effective.
The article states "anyone who publicly expresses enmity, hatred or insults against one group or some groups of Indonesians" can be imprisoned for up to four years.
The article said that "groups" referred to differentiations based on, among other things, "race, country of origin, religion, location, origin, descent, nationality".
Law-enforcement officials have been hesitant to enforce existing law, Uli said. "The police were apparently hesitant to apply the article, because it does not specifically address religious hate speech, but speech in general."
Uli said that hate speech had been responsible for sparking violent clashes in the community. He also said that the exercise of free speech could turn into hate speech if it incited others into attacking people who were targeted in the verbal statement. "That's where we draw the line."
Uli highlighted the April 15 skirmish that involved Islamic hard-line vigilantes and members of the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi, east of Jakarta, that was sparked by a Muslim cleric who reportedly made a speech inciting the crowd to violence against the Christians.
In February 2008, a another cleric told people at an Islamic religious gathering in Tasikmalaya, West Java "to kill Ahmadiyah followers", saying it was proscribed (halal) for Muslims to spill the blood of Ahmadis.
As a minority sect of Islam, Ahmadiyah has consistently been the subject of attacks from various groups who consider them heretics.
Ali Akbar Tanjung from the Human Rights Working Group said that given the worsening trend in religious violence, members of the House of Representatives must enact a law that would criminalize hate speech.
"House members can either revise Article 156 of the Criminal Code or add regulations on hate speech to the religious harmony bill currently being discussed at the House," he said.
Separately, Abdul Hakim, a Prosperous Justice Party lawmaker on House Commission VIII overseeing religious affairs, said that the bill was not at the top of the House's legislative agenda for the next two years.
Hakim, however said that the House could include the bill on the list if NGOs and other organizations stated their case convincingly.
"They must present their version of the draft bill to us so the lawmakers can study it better," he told the Post.
Meanwhile, National Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said the police could persecute hate speech directed against religious minority groups, such as members of the HKBP Filadelfia, using existing laws.
"We will review the reports in accordance to the existing law," Boy said.