Saturday, March 27, 2010

Indonesia - The vanishing minorities

This week has been nothing but bad news for minorities of all kinds in Indonesia. First, the petition to repeal the pornography law because of its discriminatory nature was rejected by the Constitutional Court. And then the plan for an Asian conference of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (ILGA) in Surabaya had to be canceled at the last minute on police orders after pressure from radical Islamic groups.

Another petition by religious minorities to repeal the blasphemy law is also running into trouble. This week, a radical Islamic group even assaulted supporters of the petition who came to the hearing at the Constitutional Court, with the police not lifting a finger to stop the attack. The same group has been going around threatening to attack the ILGA conference, and again the police have kept silent.

All of this is sending the wrong signals that Indonesia, a country that once prided itself on its diversity, so much so that it is carved in the state motto Unity in Diversity, is increasingly becoming intolerant. Minorities are finding they are being treated as second- class citizens, misfits, discriminated against or even persecuted.

The tragic part of the story is that some of this is institutionalized discrimination, either written into our laws, or as in the case of the ban on the ILGA, the police becoming part of the conspiracy to deprive the constitutionally guaranteed rights of association of the people.

In all these instances, the state has failed in its job to protect the rights of the minorities. Today it is the gays and lesbians, next the religious minorities, and tomorrow the ethnic and racial minorities.

Indonesia's nascent democracy is heading in the wrong direction, a democracy where the majority not only rules, but a democracy where the minorities are struggling to even make their voices heard.

If we keep harassing the minorities, or if the state keeps failing to protect their rights, we will surely be pushing them to the edge, perhaps to the point of extinction. When the minorities vanish, so will Indonesia as we know it. Editorial: The Jakarta Post

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