New code should 'steer clear of religion, press'

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Items regarding religion within the new draft of the Criminal Code would encroach a person's private life and could be easily misinterpreted, analysts and experts said in a discussion Wednesday.

Items on press in the new draft, including the imprisonment of journalists, should be prohibited and the 1999 Law on Press should be the ultimate reference in press-related cases, they said.

The new draft of the Code put religious blasphemy in one chapter with eight articles, while the current one mentioned it in one article.

Stipulations included in the draft said, it was an offense to insult the greatness, teachings, characteristics of God; to besmirch and disparage the teachings of prophets and religious services; and it was prerequisite to protect officers of religion.

The draft reassured six recognized religions despite the country being home to hundreds of traditional beliefs and varying religious practices.

"There's an obsession to show Indonesia is a religious country by forcing these items into the Criminal Code," said the Reform Institute's Ifdhal Kasim.

"The Code should protect the freedom of religious acts and deem as offenses those hampering instead of regulating what to do and what not to do in people's relations to God."

Ifdhal said the legal drafting team must have chosen not to consult experts in relevant fields before making their changes.

He said anthropology and religious experts at least could have elaborated the intricacy of religions and beliefs in Indonesia.

Ifdhal said the items should have focused on aspects of religion that could lead to public disorder, including acts of hatred and provocation against a religion.

Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesian Conference for Religion and Peace said the Code's inclusion on the private aspects of religion would tend to trigger conflicts.

The police brought to court several followers of Ahmadiyah -- a religious group not recognized by the Code and a variant of Islam -- after the group was subjected to religious-based provocation and attacks.

Conflict also surfaced when Muslim groups vandalized and shut down private houses used by Christians to conduct prayer services, accusing them of being "illegal churches".

With regard to the Code's inclusion of media law, experts said reportage by a journalist should not be subject to imprisonment.

They said journalism was "a profession with its own code of ethics ... (so) a journalist should be treated within the 1999 Law on Press as a lex specialist".

The Press Council's Sabam Leo Batubara said, "journalists should not be indicted on the defense their (reportage), which could be considered defamatory ... did not contain malicious content to bring a subject down".

Lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said the use of "truth as defense" was yet to be put in place.

"As (long as) the journalist has covered both sides, verified the data and had no malicious intent, that would be enough defense," he said.
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