TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - IN the space of less than an hour, the Supreme Court issued two important decisions when it sat last Tuesday. The court’s upholding of a judicial review of the Population Law was announced after Constitutional Court Chief Justice Arief Hidayat and six other justices rejected another suit lodged by five corruption convicts concerning the regulations on granting remissions in the Law on Penal Institutions.
The court’s decision granting a request made by local belief communities, has been both welcomed and opposed by different groups. Human rights activists consider the ruling to allow penghayat kepercayaan (traditional belief follower) to be designated as a religion on personal identity cards (KTP) and family registration cards (KK) as a breakthrough in ending the chain of discrimination against those practicing traditional beliefs. “They are also citizens whose rights to their beliefs are guaranteed and protected just as with those embracing other religions,” said Arief, 61.
Opponents of the decision accuse the court of blurring the concept of belief in God, which has always been interpreted as an obligation to embrace any of the six government-recognized religions. Taking an extreme view, some are concerned the court’s decision will mark the starting point of new faiths emerging. “The State makes sure personal beliefs remains centered on God and in no way is this leading anyone towards forming any new religion,” Arief stressed.
In the court’s other ruling, they rejected a request for review in a suit submitted by five corruption convicts. Arief said that the basis of this judgment is that sentence reductions are a legal right of prisoners. However, the government does have the authority to limit any legal right where an extraordinary crime such as corruption is involved. “This has no connection with human rights,” he explained.
Arief, both Consitutional Court judge and Diponegoro University Professor, met Tempo reporters Raymundus Rikang, Gabriel Wahyu Titiyoga, and Nur Alfiyah at the Constitutional Court Building last Friday for a special interview.
What were the grounds for the Constitutional Court’s decision to allow other beliefs to be shown on personal identity cards and family cards?
The fact is, in many remote places, from Sabang to Merauke, some communities and groups live adhering to traditional beliefs about the One Almighty God. Those beliefs are continuing to grow and thrive while their adherents are Indonesian citizens. There are no grounds whatsoever for allowing them to be ignored and discriminated against solely because of their beliefs. The rights of these adherents must continue to be upheld and protected in the same way as the state protects followers of religion. Rather than these adherents being forced to lie by writing down one of the official religions as theirs, it is better to just acknowledge their beliefs. Practices like that would teach the whole nation to be dishonest about fundamental things.
Why has this view emerged only now?
The government has actually long acknowledged six religions, plus the other beliefs that live and thrive in Indonesian society. The evidence of that is the existence of the Republic of Indonesia Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965 on Prevention of Blasphemy. In that, the government acknowledges the six religions followed by the majority of the population. But that does not mean other religions, such as Judaism, Zoroastrian, Shinto, Taoism, and any beliefs having a basis of belief in God, are forbidden in Indonesia.
Does that then mean beliefs other than the six formally acknowledged religions are allowed?
They are guaranteed full protection and may do whatever they do, provided they do not contravene the provisions of PNPS/1965 or any other regulations. But what needs to be remembered is that faith is not belief in anything unseen, other than the One Almighty God.
Is the court recognizing the 187 groups registered at the ministry of education and culture in this decision?
I am not looking that far ahead. We do not even know exactly how many of these adherents there are throughout Indonesia. What we do know for sure is Indonesians’ belief in One Almighty God, whether it be expressed through religion or any other belief, has long prevailed in our archipelago. To date, their numbers have continued to grow rapidly.
Some are making an issue of this decision in relation to the recent banning of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia. What is your opinion of that?
That opinion is mistaken.
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine.