Last Updated 26 October 2020

Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, has in the past had a relatively good reputation for plural religious identity united under a monotheistic state ideology, however, this reputation was largely in decline during the term (2004-2014) of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (“SBY”). Under president Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”), elected 2014, there was some hope for reform, but atheists and the non-religious remain socially marginalised and legally unrecognized, and ‘blasphemy’ prosecutions against religion or belief minorities have continued apace. Indonesia recognizes only six official religions.

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

The Constitution1—ed_protect/—protrav/—ilo_aids/documents/legaldocument/wcms_174556.pdf theoretically protects freedom of “religion or belief”, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association.2 However, in practice these rights are often severely restricted and they are non-existent for non-religious citizens or anyone who does not believe in a god. On “Religion”, under article 29, awkwardly states both that:

“(1) The State shall be based upon the belief in the One and Only God.”


“(2) The State guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief.”

According to guidelines produced by the Ministry of the Interior pertaining to the registration of an organization in Indonesia,3 applications may be rejected if the organization holds principles that run contrary to the Basic Ideology of the State (called Pancasila); the first principle of Pancasila is ‘Belief in the one and only God’.4 That means no explicitly atheist group can legally register itself. This is reinforced in the 2013 Law on Societal Organizations.5

“A new hope”

Inaugurated in October 2014, new president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected on the promise of democratic and social reforms, in Indonesia’s first peaceful transfer of power between two popularly elected leaders. Time magazine called him “a new hope” for the country, noting that he faces challenges including religious extremism and radical Islamist threats to the country’s largely syncretic, relatively moderate

As the candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the crucial final days of Jokowi’s election campaign featured both a rock concert, successfully aimed at more younger and more liberal voters, as well as a brief pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, reportedly aimed at debunking “smears” that he is a Christian of Chinese descent (he is in fact a Javanese Muslim)

Education and children’s rights

Education in Indonesia is given a Constitutional guarantee of being funded to at minimum 20% of the national budget, and a right for every child.

However, education is under joint control of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Constitution defines education always in terms that are mixed up with distinctly religious aspiration: the aims of education (Article 31.3) are to “increase the level of spiritual belief, devoutness and moral character in the context of developing the life of the nation” and to do so (Article 31.5) “with the highest respect for religious values and national unity for the advancement of civilisation and prosperity of humankind”—ed_protect/—protrav/—ilo_aids/documents/legaldocument/wcms_174556.pdf

About 15% of students attend Islamic schools, many of which are pesantren (boarding schools). No single sect or approach dominates and this is generally an option arrived at by religious parents.

Most students attend state-run, non-sectarian (but not entirely secular) schools. Even outside of Islamic schools, the national education system instructs children in the principles of participation in the modern nation-state along somewhat nationalist lines. The teaching of the state ideology, Pancasila, has diminished somewhat but remains, with its heavy emphasis on monotheism as the primary tenet of national;

Family, community and society

Six religions, no non-religion

For the time being it remains the case that Indonesia recognizes only six official religions—Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism—and requires its citizens to adhere to one of these. Persons who do not identify with one of the six official religions, including people with no religion, continue to experience official discrimination. This discrimination occurs often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births, and other situation involving family law.

Official ID cards must list one of the six official religions; therefore “atheism” or “Humanism” are not permitted options. However, since 2006, a minus sign (“-“) has been a permitted option under the category of religion. The minus category covers all other non-recognized religions, sects, and local traditional beliefs. It could, at least in theory, be used by atheists, although its actual use may depend on the attitude of the bureaucrat processing the application for an ID card.

In November 2014 the Interior Minister Tjahjo Kumolo proposed to remove religious identity from the cards altogether, but this remains a proposal and there is no timeline for its implementation.

Applicants for government jobs must also identify as belonging to one of the six official religions.

In 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the prohibition on indigenous peoples from listing their religion on official identification cards, as well as those with no religion, was unconstitutional. The ruling came in response to a 2006 legal challenge to the law filed by several indigenous faith

Oppression in the name of religious conformity

LGBTQ+ rights in Indonesia are increasingly maligned both in society and by the Government despite there being no law against sexual minorities as such. An intensification of Islamist demands drives growing intolerance of LGBTQ+ rights along with increasing verbal attacks on minority groups and the growing implementation of Islamic bylaws by regional governments across provinces such as Aceh and West Java. Public canings, in accordance with Sharia law, were becoming commonplace in these areas by

This is a worrying change in a country that previously has been applauded for its diverse, heterogeneous society. Certain politicians and prominent Islamic groups (such as the Family Love Alliance or AILA) have been advocating for religious norms and values to be associated with more a more general Indonesian national identity.

Violations against women

In September 2019, parliament revised the 1974 marriage law, raising the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys with parental consent from 16 to 19, but retaining a clause that allows courts to authorize marriages of girls below 19, with no minimum age restriction.12 An estimated 14 percent of girls in Indonesia are married before age 18, and 1 percent marry before age 15.13

The government have failed to address abusive, unscientific “virginity tests” of women who apply to join the military, or to institute measures to curb female genital mutilation, which continues to be used in rites of passage in some areas.15

Religious law in society

The law allows implementation of Sharia law in Aceh province, with religious courts handed jurisdiction over economic transactions and criminal cases. Unmarried, unrelated members of the opposite sex are banned from close contact, alcohol consumption and gambling are prohibited. Non-Muslims are specifically exempted, but given taboos against ‘coming out’ atheist this certainly means that some individuals will be pressured into the Sharia system.

Also in Aceh, an Islamic vice patrol known as Wilayatul Hisbah operates, enforcing Islamic dress codes, and bans on alcohol, gambling, and the acquaintance of unmarried, unrelated men and women without a “chaperon”.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is generally upheld, though censorship and self-censorship of books and films for allegedly obscene or blasphemous content is fairly common. Since 2011, authorities in Aceh have cracked down on “punks” for supposedly insulting Islam. Those rounded up by police are subjected to “re-education,” which includes the forcible shaving of their punk-rock hairstyles and a traditional cleansing ceremony.16

“Blasphemy” and atheism

The country’s blasphemy law makes it illegal to promote other faiths, or atheism. Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, criticism of religion is severely restricted and support for atheism is effectively banned. According to the Constitution, the six recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – are all equal. However, in the past decades, the blasphemy law has been frequently used against religion or belief minorities. According to a research carried out by the Jakarta Setara Institute, which tracks religious freedom in Indonesia, from 1965 to 2017 there were 97 cases of blasphemy accusations, 88 of those since

One example is that of Alexander Aan, a civil servant who was arrested in January 2012 after being mobbed for having criticized Islam on Facebook and for calling himself an atheist (see the ‘Highlighted cases’ section below).

In another famous example, on 9 May 2017, the governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, usually known as ‘Ahok’, was sentenced to two years in prison for criminal ‘blasphemy’ The charges against him related to comments he made about the use of certain verses of the Quran which had been cited against him during the election campaign; as a Christian standing for office in a predominantly Muslim country, the implication was that Muslims should not be governed by a non-Muslim. Ahok contested this interpretation and use of the religious injunction, and moreover an edited Youtube clip went viral in which it was made to seem that he was criticizing the Quran per se. This led to various Islamist groups calling for Ahok’s imprisonment, or even his execution, for “blasphemy”. After serving his sentence, Ahok was eventually released in;

In 2018, Indonesian courts convicted 6 people on blasphemy charges and sentenced them to between one and five years in prison. They include Councillor Riano Jaya Wardhana, for defending Jakarta governor Ahok; a Christian who faced a smear campaign; a street vendor, Firdaus, for writing the words ‘Allah’ and ‘Muhammad’ on his sandals; a man called Arnoldy Bahari, who was found guilty of spreading hate speech by claiming to have experienced God’s presence and questioning the faith of other Muslims; and Christian priest Abraham Moses, who was known for recording a conversation with an online taxi driver, during which he quoted a Quran verse about marriage and tried to convince the driver to convert to;; Similar patterns persisted into 2019 and 2020.

In another 2018 conviction, Meiliana, a 44-year-old Chinese Buddhist, was found guilty of “insulting Islam” in a 2016 incident; she had asked if her local mosque could lower the volume of its sound system in the call to prayer. A week after her request, she was attacked by a mob who also – because she is Buddhist – burned and ransacked at least 14 Buddhist temples. As of October 2019, Meiliana is still in

Despite this consistent pattern of discrimination against religious and non-religious minorities, the Constitutional Court has rejected each of the three petitions that, over the last few years, have asked to revoke the existing blasphemy; Instead, the authorities are considering passing a revised Penal Code that would expand Indonesia’s blasphemy law from one to six articles to include offenses such as “persuading someone to be a non-believer.”23;

Wider press freedoms

Indonesia has quite diverse media, but press freedom is hampered by a number of legal and regulatory restrictions. Strict but unevenly enforced licensing rules mean that thousands of television and radio stations operate illegally. Foreign journalists are not authorized to travel to the restive provinces of Papua and West Papua without special permission. Reporters often practice self-censorship to avoid running afoul of civil and criminal libel laws.

In addition to legal obstacles, reporters sometimes face violence and intimidation, which in many cases goes unpunished.

The 2008 Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE)24 extended libel and other restrictions to the internet and online media, criminalizing the distribution or accessibility of information or documents that are “contrary to the moral norms of Indonesia” or related to gambling, blackmail, or defamation.

Conservative religious beliefs are having an impact on broadcasting in Indonesia, with anti-gay crackdowns pushing for bans on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ‘behaviour’ and content on from[/ref

Regressive new laws proposed, and protested, in 2019

As of 2019, a list of controversial legal reforms has been proposed by the government, including the introduction of financial penalties for anyone found guilty of “insulting the president’s dignity”, four-year jail terms for women who have abortions outside of medical emergencies or rape, the censoring of contraceptive advice, and the expansion of blasphemy laws, which reportedly “would make it illegal to promote atheism”.[ref]

Moreover, the proposed reforms aim to ban consensual sex outside of marriage, intensifying the already existing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, since same-sex marriage continues to be illegal. The new laws would also criminalize criticism of a judge, publication of “fake news”, bestiality and black;

While the government planned to pass these reforms before new lawmakers entered parliament on 1 October 2019, President Widodo eventually postponed adoption of the bill amid protests which were taking place throughout the country against the proposed changes in legislation. The passage of the reforms is now left to the discretion of the new parliament, where a few of the conservative hardliners have been replaced, but negotiations are still

Highlighted cases

In January 2012, Alexander Aan, an Indonesian civil servant in the province of West Sumatra, was arrested after being attacked by a mob of Muslim militants.28 The mob was reacting to statements Aan made on Facebook which criticized Islam and said he had left Islam and become an atheist. The police charged Aan on three separate counts: insulting religion (which has a maximum sentence of five years jail), the electronic transmission of defamatory comments (six years jail), and false reporting on an official form (six years jail). The charges of blasphemy and defamation related to his criticism of Islam on Facebook. The final charge claimed that his application for his civil service job falsely stated he was Muslim when he was in fact an atheist. On June 14, 2012, a district court sentenced Alexander Aan to two years and six months in prison for “spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity.” Aan was also reportedly fined 100 million rupiah (US $10,600). He was released in February 2014.


“Most of humanist, non-religious, and LGBT live in the shadow in Indonesia.” – Anonymous respondent to Humanists International’s Humanists at Risk survey 2019

“Changes to the discriminatory laws and social campaigns are definitely useful, but just having our existence (atheists’ existence in Indonesia) to be acknowledged is significant enough to start a change. This was happening with the Alex Aan’s case back in 2012, for the first time it was publicly
mentioned in the media that there are atheists in Indonesia.” – Anonymous respondent to Humanists International’s Humanists at Risk survey 2019


12, 15

Regressive new laws proposed, and protested, in 2019

As of 2019, a list of controversial legal reforms has been proposed by the government, including the introduction of financial penalties for anyone found guilty of “insulting the president’s dignity”, four-year jail terms for women who have abortions outside of medical emergencies or rape, the censoring of contraceptive advice, and the expansion of blasphemy laws, which reportedly “would make it illegal to promote atheism”.[ref]


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