Islamic-based legislation may be a key issue in this year’s elections.

DUBLIN, February 2 (Compass Direct News) – As candidates hit the campaign trail in preparation for Indonesia’s presidential election in July, rights groups have voiced strong opposition to an increasing number of sharia-inspired laws introduced by local governments. They say the laws discriminate against religious minorities and violate Indonesia’s policy of Pancasila, or “unity in diversity.”

With legislative elections coming in April and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likely to form a coalition with several Islamic parties for the July presidential election, such laws could become a key campaign issue.

Although Aceh is the only province completely governed by sharia (Islamic law), more than 50 regencies in 16 of 32 provinces throughout Indonesia have passed laws influenced by sharia. These laws became possible following the enactment of the Regional Autonomy Law in 2000.

The form of these laws varies widely. Legislation in Padang, West Sumatra, requires both Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear headscarves, while a law in Tangerang allows women found “loitering” alone on the street after 10 p.m. to be arrested and charged with prostitution. Other laws include stipulations for Quran literacy among schoolchildren and severe punishment for adultery, alcoholism and gambling.

“Generally the legal system regulates and guarantees religious freedom of Indonesian citizens … but in reality, discrimination prevails,” a lawyer from the legal firm Eleonora and Partners told Compass.

Some regencies have adopted sharia in a way that further marginalizes minority groups, according to Syafi’I Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism.

“For instance, the Padang administration issued a law requiring all schoolgirls, regardless of their religion, to wear the headscarf,” he told the International Herald Tribune. This is unacceptable because it is not in line with the pluralism that the constitution recognizes.”

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 29 of the country’s constitution, he added. “Therefore the government must assist all religious communities to practice their beliefs as freely as possible and take actions against those who violate that right.”

While Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has publicly denounced the implementation of such laws, other groups actively support them. The Committee for the Implementation and Maintenance of Islamic Law (KPPSI) has held several congresses in Makassar, South Sulawesi with the goal of passing sharia-inspired legislation and obtaining special autonomy for the province, similar to that in Aceh.

KPPSI has also encouraged members to vote for politicians who share their goals, according to local news agency Komintra.


‘Threatening’ Decision

In February of last year, Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto declared that the government saw no need to nullify some 600 sharia-inspired laws passed by local governments. His announcement came after a group of lawyers in June 2007 urged the government to address laws that discriminated against non-Muslims.

Moderates were alarmed at Mardiyanto’s decision, fearing it would encourage other jurisdictions to pass similar laws. Last August, Dr. Mohammad Mahfud, newly re-elected as head of the Constitutional Court, slammed regional administrations for enacting sharia-inspired laws.

“[These] laws are not constitutionally or legally correct because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national integrity,” he told top military officers attending a training program on human rights, according to The Jakarta Post.

Mahfud contended that if Indonesia allowed sharia-based laws, “then Bali can pass a Hindu bylaw, or North Sulawesi can have a Christian ordinance. If each area fights for a religious-based ordinance, then we face a national integration problem.” According to Mahfud, sharia-based laws would promote religious intolerance and leave minority religious groups without adequate legal protection.

Under the 2000 Regional Autonomy Law, the central government has the power to block provincial laws but showed little willingness to do so until recently when, bowing to pressure from advocacy groups, it pledged to review 37 sharia-based ordinances deemed discriminatory and at odds with the constitution.

Such reviews are politically sensitive and must be done on sound legal grounds, according to Ridarson Galingging, a law lecturer in Jakarta.

“Advocates of sharia-based laws will stress the divine origin of sharia and resist challenges [that are] based on constitutional or human rights limits,” he told The Jakarta Post. “They maintain that sharia is authorized directly by God, and political opposition is viewed as apostasy or blasphemy.”


Empowering Vigilantes

A national, sharia-inspired bill regulating images or actions deemed pornographic sparked outrage when presented for a final vote in October last year. One fifth of the parliamentarians present walked out in protest, leaving the remainder to vote in favor of the legislation.

The bill provided for up to 15 years of prison and a maximum fine of US$1.5 million for offenders.

“This law will only empower vigilante groups like the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI),” Eva Sundari, a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) told reporters. FPI is widely-regarded as a self-appointed moral vigilante group, often raiding bars and nightclubs, but also responsible for multiple attacks on churches.

“Many of the members are preparing for elections and looking for support among the Islamic community,” she added. “Now they can point to this law as evidence that they support Islamic values.”

Although several Golkar Party politicians support sharia-based laws, senior Golkar Party member Theo Sambuaga has criticized politicians for endorsing such legislation to win support from Muslim voters. Several major parties openly back sharia laws, including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party, and the Crescent Star party.


Key Election Issue

Sharia-based laws may become an even hotter election issue this year as a change to the voting system means more weight will be given to provincial candidates.

Political analysts believe Yudhoyono must form a coalition with most if not all of the country’s Islamic parties in order to win a majority vote against the Golkar party, allied for this election with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDIP.

The coalition Yudhoyono could form, however, likely would come with strings attached. As Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance wrote in September 2008, “The more the president needs the Islamists, the more they can demand of him.”

In 2004, Yudhoyono partnered with the NU-sponsored National Awakening Party, the National Mandate Party (founded by the Islamic purist organization Muhammadiyah) and the PKS to achieve his majority vote. Analysts predict PKS will again be a key player in this election.

Few realize, however, that PKS draws its ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group formed in Egypt in 1928 with a firm belief in Islamic world dominance. Crushed by the Egyptian government in the 1960s, members of the Brotherhood fled to Saudi Arabia, where they taught in the nation’s universities – influencing the future founders of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Sudan’s National Islamic Front.

The Brotherhood took root at a university in Bandung, West Java in the 1970s in the form of Tarbiyah, a secretive student movement that eventually morphed into the Justice Party (JP) in 1998. Winning few votes, JP allied itself with a second party to form the PKS prior to the 2004 elections.

Since then, PKS has gained widespread support and a solid reputation for integrity and commitment to Islamic values. Simultaneously, however, PKS leaders are vocal supporters of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, says the two organizations have much in common. In its founding manifesto, PKS calls for the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Unlike JI, however, “the party can use its position in Parliament and its … network of cadres to advance the same goals incrementally, one victory at a time.”  

Report from Compass Direct News


Public Order officer warns ministry chairman to be ‘careful of your life.’

JAKARTA, September 3 (Compass Direct News) – A land dispute led to two attacks on the headquarters of the Indonesian Christian Students’ Movement (GMKI) and its parent ministry, the Alliance of Indonesian Churches (PGI), last week (August 26 and 28).

Sources said an illegal land deal in Jakarta has created the bitter dispute between the GMKI and a private company that claims it has the legal right to build on land previously occupied by GMKI.

GMKI and PGI share an office on the disputed land. Sources said that on August 26 volunteer Public Order officials – who normally mediate local disputes, but who in this case have sided with the private company laying claim to the land, Kencana Indotama Persada Co. (KIP) – threw stones at the Christian organizations’ offices and damaged doors, windows and student motorbikes.

On Thursday (Aug. 28), according to sources, the Public Order officers again attacked the premises, this time using heavy implements to break glass panes and damage other property. Students present fled to a nearby office of the Indonesia Bible Institute (LAI). Policemen standing nearby on the street made no attempt to intervene.


Mysterious Appropriation

The disputed property is a large piece of land originally granted by the Dutch colonial government to the Vereneging Christian School (VCS) Foundation. The VCS then gave the land to the Christian School Association, which in turn passed it on to a branch of its own association, the Christian Education Foundation (YBPK).

Although occupied by many Christian ministries and associations, including the Christian University of Indonesia and LAI, sources said the land belonged to YBPK.

Under the terms of the land grant, the land could not legally be sold to business entities, according to GMKI lawyer Nikson Lalu. In August 2006, however, a board member of YBPK, acting independently of the board, sold a small plot of land to KIP. An old office belonging to GMKI was still standing on the plot of land, adjacent to a newer building shared by GMKI and PGI.

Compass sources noted that a gas station and business offices had replaced other ministry offices on the granted land. It was not clear, however, how the businesses had appropriated the land from YBPK.


Dispute Escalates

Sources said that on August 23, at around 5 p.m., Public Order officer Simanjuntak, who has only a single name, visited the GMKI office and informed staff members that a boundary wall would be built between their current building and the old building, which was now considered the property of KIP.

KIP then erected a boundary wall between the two buildings, sources said, and KIP construction workers also used a bulldozer to partially demolish the old GMKI office despite protests from GMKI Chairman Charles Hutahaean. On August 26, GMKI students demolished the boundary wall that KIP had erected.

GMKI had filed a complaint against KIP in the district court, according to sources, but the court ruled in favor of KIP. GMKI’s lawyer then took the case to the Supreme Court, which at press time had yet to announce a decision.

Sources said that KIP claimed it had a previous letter of decision from the Supreme Court stating that KIP was the owner of the disputed land, despite the fact that the land could not legally be sold to a business enterprise.

A day before the first attack, Public Order officers had a confrontation with GMKI students. On August 25, Public Order officers noted that GMKI students had erected a banner inside their own boundary fence, facing the street, protesting against a new bylaw forbidding the sale of fruit, cigarettes and other goods by street vendors in the area.

When officers tried to remove the banner, according to sources, the students protested, claiming that since the banner was on their own property, they did not require a permit from the district office to display it.


Attacks, Threat

At around 4 p.m. on August 26, a large group of Public Order officers returned to the shared GMKI and PGI premises and began to throw stones at the building, breaking glass window and door panes and damaging motorbikes owned by GMKI students.

Sources said the students threw stones back at the officers, who then scaled the fence and tried to break into the PGI building itself; a PGI security guard managed to stop them.

The following day, Jakarta Vice-Governor Prijanto, who has only a single name, met with PGI Chairman Andreas Yewangoe and other PGI leaders. He apologized for the disturbance and promised compensation for the damaged property.

Additionally, Engkartiasto Lukito of the Golkar party and Ara Sirait of the Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (PdiP) came to offer condolences, as did Hasyim Muzadi, leader of Nahdatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, on Thursday (Aug. 28), Public Order officers returned to carry out the second attack.

A Public Order officer involved in the dispute also warned GMKI Chairman Hutahaean to be “careful with your life.”

Compass sources explained that Public Order officers would likely benefit financially from protecting the business interests of KIP.

KIP construction workers on Friday (August 29) erected a sign on the disputed plot of land adjacent to the GMKI and PGI building, declaring that the land belonged to KIP.  

Report from Compass Direct News