Southeast Asian countries must do more to “truly guarantee freedom of religion,” protect minorities, and stop using “public order” and “harmony” as justifications for imposing unwarranted restrictions.
This was the call made by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on Thursday, November 17, following the release of a report titled “Restricting Diversity: Mapping Legislation on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia.”
“This report shows that many laws that inhibit, restrict, and repress religious freedoms remain on the books and are implemented throughout Southeast Asia,” said Indonesian MP and APHR member Taufik Basari in a statement.
He said the report is “a reminder that, despite all achievements to maintain coexistence in a plural Southeast Asia, there are still many problems that remain to be solved and situations that should be improved.”
The report, which was launched on November 7, provides an overview of the laws and regulations regarding the right to freedom of religion or belief in the region.
One of the key findings in the report is that, while many of the constitutions of Southeast Asian countries formally guarantee the right to freedom of religion, in practice the laws related to religion contain ambiguities and restrictions that do not conform with international standards.
APHR noted in a statement that national security and public order in the region have often been used to justify restricting the freedom of religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyah, Shia, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.
Blasphemy laws are also often used to criminalize certain religious groups that are critical to the state, government or the religious establishment of the majority, in violation of international human rights standards.
“I hope we can have more dialogues in the future and more innovative methods to promote and protect [freedom of religious beliefs] in the Southeast Asian countries,” said APHR member and Timor-Leste MP Isabel Ximenes.
“The law must serve as a tool in creating peace and balance for the community, so it should be formulated properly in order to bring justice in society,” said Ximenes.
APHR urged parliamentarians across the region to work toward fully guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia by repealing and amending laws that violate such freedom, and pass new laws where necessary.