Bali, 15 May 2015—At the roadshow hosted by the Human Rights Resource Centre and the Faculty of Law of Udayana University (FH UNUD) to consider the findings of “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN,” discussions highlighted the correlation between decentralization and freedom of religion in Bali. Indonesia’s religious demographics can vary from region to region, with different parts of Indonesia having different majority-minority composition. While 87% of Indonesia’s population are adherents of Islam, around 80% of Bali’s population are Hindus. Despite this marked dominance of Hinduism, the different religions live together in harmony in Bali. The speakers thus focused on Bali’s strong customary law system and how it interacts with the national legal structure. Examples from ASEAN that show inconsistent regulation or protection of the right to freedom of religion and belief from locality to locality were also highlighted.
Ms. Faith Delos Reyes, HRRC Research and Project Coordinator, shared the main findings of “Keeping The Faith” before focusing on the impact of decentralisation and unequal application of law on religious freedom. “Within some countries in ASEAN, not only is there varying implementation of the law, but the laws or policies themselves can vary. This appears to be true in Indonesia. The report notes that decentralisation is a double edged sword. While it gives local governments the power to issue and implement policies that are most responsive to the needs of the community, this power can be misused to give effect to policies that reflect only the interest of the religious majority. There has to be an effective system to rectify such misuse.”
Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, Director of the Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies (CRCS) at Gadjah Mada University and author of the Indonesia country report in “Keeping the Faith,” noted that there are currently more than 500 regencies or townships in the 33 provinces of Indonesia. These regencies can issue their own local regulations and such regulations remain unchecked as to whether or not they are in conflict with prevailing laws issued by the central government. He observed that decentralization is being used as a tool to perpetuate intolerance, as shown by the number of discriminative local regulations issued by several regencies.
Professor I Wayan P. Windia, an expert on Balinese Customary Law, discussed freedom of religion from the perspective of Balinese Customary Law. He noted that there were social conflicts after the Reformation between villagers and investors invited by the head of the local regency. However, conflicts on the basis of religion rarely occurred because religious tolerance is high in Bali. For example, he noted that even when the Nyepi or Balinese “Day of Silence” falls on a Friday, Muslims are still able to attend Friday noon prayers.
“Keeping the Faith” was produced with the support of the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta. The HRRC also receives support from the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the East West Center, and the University of Indonesia. The roadshow kicked off during the ASEAN People’s Forum in April in Kuala Lumpur. The next roadshows will take place on 30 May at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and June 29 in Manila. If you are interested to participate, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.