Indonesia: Vice-Presidential Candidate Has Anti-Rights Record

Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, left, with Ma’ruf Amin, top Islamic cleric and vice presidential candidate – Image: hrw

The decision by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to select Ma’ruf Amin as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2019 presidential election, raises questions about Jokowi’s commitment to improve human rights protection for all Indonesians, according to Human Rights Watch.

Amin, who has been the chairman of Indonesia’s Ulama Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, or MUI), and leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama since 2015, has played a pivotal role in fuelling worsening discrimination against the country’s religious and gender minorities.

Over the past two decades at the MUI, Amin has helped draft, and has been a vocal supporter of, fatwas, or religious edict decrees, against the rights of religious minorities, as well as LGBT people.

Although not legally binding, these have been used to legitimise increasingly anti-gay rhetoric by government officials against LGBT people.

“Amin has been central to some of the most intolerant elements of Indonesian contemporary religious and political culture, so fear of the negative impact he could have on the rights and safety of religious and gender minorities is well founded,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director of Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

Jokowi explained his decision to make Amin his running mate on the basis that “we complete each other, nationalistic and religious.” Jokowi has been the target of attacks by his opponents who accused him of pursuing liberal secularism, and of secretly being Christian, or the son of communist parents. Amin’s selection indicates an effort at least in part to rebut these attacks.

Ma’ruf Amin has a well-documented history of intolerant views, including:

  • In February 2016, the MUI called for the criminalization of LGBT activities. Amin personally justified this on the basis that “homosexuality, whether lesbian or gay, and sodomy is legally haram and a form of crime,” That has helped fuel dangerous levels of anti-LGBT discrimination and led to arbitrary and unlawful raids by police and militant Islamists on private LGBT gatherings. These abuses have effectively derailed public health outreach efforts to populations vulnerable to HIV infection.
  • In March 2015, the MUI called for same-sex acts to be subject to punishments ranging from caning to the death penalty. It equates homosexuality with a curable disease with related sexual acts “that must be heavily punished.”

Jokowi’s decision to make Amin his running mate will compound widespread public cynicism about his administration’s failure to deliver on electoral promises to address Indonesia’s pressing human rights problems. He has released some Papuan political prisoners and announced a vague plan to address decades of gross human rights violations, including the massacre of up to 1 million people in 1965-1966.

However, Jokowi has largely ignored security force impunity for rights abuses, and violations of women’s rights and religious freedom. He has also embraced the use of the death penalty for convicted drug-traffickers, and has spoken out only once, and in highly ambiguous terms, in defence of the country’s beleaguered LGBT population.

During Indonesia’s May 2017 United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, the Indonesian government rejected multiple recommendations by UN member states including those on issues related to the rights of LGBT people, the abusive blasphemy law, and the death penalty. An Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official described the recommendations as “hard to accept” for reasons including the vague and undefined notion of “Indonesian conditions.”

“Ma’ruf Amin has already shown he has no hesitation in putting vulnerable minorities at risk,” Kine said. “Jokowi will need to prove that he values his obligation to defend the rights and dignity of all the Indonesian people above pandering to extreme intolerance for short term political gain.”

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