A group of parliamentarians in Southeast Asia on Monday, October 17, called for “upholding of freedom of religion” and warned against turning religion into a “political weapon.”
Members of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) noted what they described as the “increasing conservatism and discrimination against minorities worldwide.”
“Religion is too often weaponized as a political tool, especially in election years,” said Timor-Leste MP Antonio Benevides during a conference in Jakarta this week.
Benevides stressed the importance for parliamentarians “to connect and discuss strategies on how to combat such tactics” ahead of the scheduled elections in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste.
Legislators from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines, were attending the annual Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief conference in Jakarta on October 16 and 17.
“The world is not okay right now and we need to work together to help make it better by ensuring that everyone enjoys basic rights including freedom of religion and faith, particularly minorities,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, an Indonesian member of the board of APHR.
APHR noted that in recent years, “religion has often been used in Southeast Asia to attack political enemies.”
The group cited as example the 2019 presidential elections in Indonesia, where supporters of President Joko Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto traded accusations about the rival candidate’s lack of commitment to Islam.
In a roundtable discussion, Indonesian MP Luluk Nur Hamidah assured that Indonesia “celebrates all the six religions as well as the many indigenous beliefs that are practiced here.”
“But given the huge diversity here, we face a large challenge in continuing to develop respect for plurality in order to maintain the ‘Unity in Diversity’ that is our national motto,” she said.
“We also realize that protecting religious freedom is something that requires a global response,” added the Indonesian parliamentarian.
In Myanmar, the military and the Union Solidarity and Development Party have accused the National League for Democracy of endangering Buddhism and of being infiltrated by Muslims plotting to take over the country.
In recent months, the military junta that ousted the NLD government in a coup d’état in February last year has been attempting to use Buddhism supposedly to legitimize its rule.