18 Jul Hopes and challenges for religious freedom in Indonesia
Joko Widodo’s presidency promises a new hope to religious freedom. Even though there are many challenges, he is expected to protect religious freedom better than outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). During SBY’s tenure, Indonesia saw attacks against religious minority groups such as Ahmadiyah, Shia, and Christians across Indonesia.
Jokowi’s position on religious freedom is clear. As Jakarta governor he defended the Christian district head Susan Jasmin when radical Muslims attacked her position. His collaboration with his deputy governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is Christian and of Chinese descent, shows his support for pluralism. Previously as mayor of Solo, he managed to decrease violence carried out in the name of Islam.
Jokowi’s support for pluralism is also shown through his supporters. Besides the PDI-P and National Democratic party that firmly stands for Indonesia’s pluralism, he is also supported by the National Awakening Party, whose base is the biggest moderate Islamic organisation in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama. Outside party lines, Jokowi is also supported by defenders of pluralism, such as Islamic scholars Quraish Shihab and Buya Syafii Maarif, poet Goenawan Mohamad, and others.
But Jokowi will face challenges in translating his good intentions into policy. With only 37% support in the parliament, passing any legislation will not be easy for him. It will be difficult for him under Indonesia’s decentralised system to tackle the increasing Sharia-based by-laws in various regions in Indonesia. It will also be difficult to rescind the 1965 blasphemy law that has been used to persecute religious minority groups in Indonesia.
To protect minority groups, Jokowi should only appoint figures that have zero tolerance to violence against religious groups as his Home Minister, Religious Minister and police chief.