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Page last updated at 03:53 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 04:53 UK

Indonesia rejects religions law review

By Karishma Vaswani
BBC News, Jakarta

Muslims in court hearing 19 April 2010
Muslims listened as the constitutional court vetoed change to blasphemy law

Human Rights groups have criticised Indonesia's decision to uphold the controversial 1967 blasphemy law.

They say it threatens religious freedom in the most populous Muslim nation.

On Monday, Indonesia's constitutional court decided in favour of the law, thwarting hopes it would be reviewed to allow new religions and sects.

Only six faiths are officially recognised in Indonesia - Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism.

The international rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch says Indonesia's Constitutional court has dealt a blow to religious freedom with its decision to uphold the blasphemy law.

Limits to freedom

"The Constitutional Court's decision on the blasphemy law poses a real threat to the beliefs of Indonesia's religious minorities," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"If President Yudhoyono is serious about promoting religious pluralism in Indonesia, he should work to have this law and others like it taken off the books," she said.

The group added that the decision could threaten the rights of minorities in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

According to reports the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said that blasphemy laws often cause tension between religious communities.

If Indonesia's constitutional court had overturned the law, other religions would have been allowed to practice freely here.

Conservative groups feared this would open the door to liberal interpretations of Islam being recognised.

In Indonesia both the Sunni and Shia forms of Islam are accepted, but opponents say the law remains unfair and vague.

They say that in its current form it can be used to discriminate against religious groups that fundamentalist Muslim groups dislike.

The majority of Indonesia's 235 million strong population are moderate Sunni Muslims, with a reputation for tolerance.



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