In Indonesia, only a certain few religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism) are recognized and protected. The right to freedom of religion is therefore not afforded to all, but only to some. According to the constitution, the state is "based upon" belief in God, though no specific religion is specified. The state can punish blasphemy in multiple ways: there are provisions in law against "inciting religious hatred" and "misrepresenting" any of the recognized religions. Atheists face both formal and informal discrimination in the Muslim-majority nation.
Islam and indigenous Javanese religions have coexisted in Indonesia, though to contestably peaceful degrees. Several ruling dynasties attempted to Islamize the country by merging Islam with local ethnic traditions. Eventually, influence of Wahhabis sparked violent discord, which the Dutch took advantage of to impose colonial rule. Since then, the country has undergone periods of both Islamization and secularization, culminating with the declaration of the “Islamic State of Indonesia,” based in religious law, but whose legal applications, including those towards blasphemy, only saw use after the ousting of secular dictator Suharto. Since then, there have been numerous reported cases of persecution under the blasphemy law.
For the most part, evidence suggests a population non-confrontational to a syncretic version of Islam—that is, one integrated with traditional beliefs. Evidence of Javanese Muslims begins around 1368–9. One of Java’s sultans, Agung, hybridized Islam with local animist beliefs; combined the Javanese dating system with Islamic lunar months, recognized indigenous Javanese deities, and introducing Islamic literature into the court canon. Under Pakubuwana II, the prescription for citizens to attend mosque was introduced.
Development of Blasphemy Laws
Beginning in 1780, Wahhabi ideology inspired a movement lead by Padris, Muslim clerics intending to impose religious law. Tensions between nominal (abangan) and religious (santri) Muslims reached critical mass in the ensuing Padri war. The Dutch, who had already established an economic presence through the Dutch East India Company, intervened and in 1838, imposed colonial rule and a civil court system.
Indonesia was established as an Islamic state in August 1949. Under a Ministry of Religion, religion and mystical beliefs were officially distinguished. A rebellion against the Indonesian government from 1949 to 1962, led by Islamic mystic Soekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwiryo, intended to replace the secular government with a religious one. In 1965, the first blasphemy law, for “Prevention of Religious Abuse and/or Defamation,” was enacted. Secularism, however, was reinstated after a coup installing Suharto’s authoritarian regime, and blasphemy laws would see little enforcement during his 32-year rule.
The current Indonesian Constitution is based in apparent contradiction, at once declaring that "the State shall be based upon the belief in the One and Only God" and that "the State guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief."
Today, Indonesia’s blasphemy law is comprehensive, criminalizing insult to Islam, as well as Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Since the country’s democratization in 1998, blasphemy laws have been used more frequently, with at least 106 convictions counted by Amnesty International between 2005 and 2014. Those in support of the blasphemy law justified it as a way to prevent religious conflict and preserve social harmony; the Ulema Council expressed fear "that chaos would break out everywhere" if the law was canceled.
On April 19, 2010, the law was indeed upheld by the Constitutional Court, who deemed it necessary to preserve public order, conceding, however, that the law needed to be made clearer.