Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Following long-standing demands, Indonesian authorities have decided to change the rules that govern religious affiliation on identity papers.
Under existing regulations, Indonesians could only choose one of the country’s six official religions. Now they can choose other religions as well. Indonesian TV quoted Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo as saying that faiths outside the existing six must be allowed on ID cards.
After years of struggle by activists, pro human rights groups and representatives of minorities, the government has decided to change a regulation that has long been a source of controversy, abuse and marginalisation. In the past, Minister Tjahjo had himself proposed (in vain) to remove the religious reference from ID papers.
Under Indonesian law, six religions are officially recognised: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism. This is due to General Suharto, who ruled the country with an iron fist (1967-1998). After crushing Indonesia’s Communist (and atheist) movement, he drew up the list of official religions and made religious affiliation mandatory.
Speaking on state television, Minister Tjahio stressed that "those who are not included in the six [official] religions must still be registered.” With this in mind, “We issued instruction to all district chiefs" to implement the necessary changes in a timely fashion.
One of the main reason for changing the rule was to enable authorities to know what funerary rites have to be observed and respected when a person dies, something that was not guaranteed under existing rules.
The minister also warned local officials against compelling people to choose a religious affiliation that is not theirs. “Don’t force people,” Tjahjo said, “to choose Islam if their faith resembles Islamic teachings because it’s not the same; or Catholic, if the faith resembles its teachings”.
Analysts and experts point out that, although it is only an administrative provision, taken for practical purposes, it nevertheless represents a step forward in terms of religious freedom in the most populous Muslim country in the world.
The government measure is due to the high number of ethical and legal abuses involving monks. In recent years, there have been several cases of misappropriation of government funds in temples. The government has announced the new measure to three members of the Sangha Supreme Council. The new papers are expected “in three months,” a senior Thai government official said.