Indonesia Is No Model for Muslim Democracy

Tuesday, March 5, 2013
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Daniel and Nancy Okimoto Conference Room
  • Andreas Harsono

Since the resignation of Indonesia’s authoritarian president Suharto in 1998, the country has made great strides in consolidating a democratic government. But it is by no means a model of tolerance. The rights of religious minorities are routinely trampled. Regulations against blasphemy and proselytizing are routinely used to prosecute minorities including atheists, Ahmadiyah, Bahais, Christians, and Shias. As of 2012 Indonesia had over 280 religiously motivated regulations restricting minority rights. 

Hard-line groups such as the Islam Defenders Front use narrow interpretations of local and national legislation as a key tool to suppress minorities. In 2006 two ministers in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's cabinet jointly decreed stricter legal requirements for building a house of worship. The decree is enforced only on religious minorities, often when Islamists pressure local officials to refuse to authorize the construction of Christian churches or to harass those worshiping in “illegal” churches. More than 430 such churches have been closed since. Violent attacks on religious minorities have become more frequent—from 216 cases in 2010, to 244 in 2011, to 264 in 2012. What explains this record of intimidation? Can it be stopped, and if so, how?

Andreas Harsono is widely published. He co-wrote In Religion's Name: Abuses against Religious Minorities in Indonesia (Human Rights Watch, 2013). His commentaries appeared in 2012 in outlets ranging from The New York Times to The Myanmar Times. Other writings include My “Religion” Is Journalism (2010), a collection of his Indonesian-language essays. In 2003 he helped establish the Pantau Foundation, which trains Indonesian journalists and defends media freedom. In 1999 he was awarded a Nieman Fellowship on Journalism at Harvard. He co-founded the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Bangkok,1998), the Institute for the Study of the Free Flow of Information (Jakarta, 1995), and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Jakarta, 1994). Earlier in his career he edited Pantau, a monthly Indonesian magazine on journalism and the media. Still earlier he worked as a reporter for The Nation (Bangkok) and The Star (Kuala Lumpur). He describes himself as a “journalist-cum-activist”—an identity richly illustrated by his career.

Related Resources

Indonesia: Religious Minorities Targets of Rising Violence (HRW, press release)

Indonesia: Rising Violence Against Religious Minorities (HRW, slideshow)

In Religion’s Name: Abuses Against Religious Minorities in Indonesia (HRW, report)