Southeast Asian MPs call for combating the politicization of religion and protecting minorities


Southeast Asian MPs call for combating the politicization of religion and protecting minorities

JAKARTA — Parliamentarians should uphold freedom of religion or belief and work in preventing religion from being turned into a political weapon in the midst of increasing conservatism and discrimination against minorities worldwide, a group of twelve sitting and former lawmakers from Southeast Asia said at a conference held in Jakarta.

Religion is too often weaponized as a political tool, especially in election years. It is important for parliamentarians to connect and discuss strategies on how to combat such tactics, particularly with upcoming elections in Malaysia, Indonesia, as well as Timor-Leste,” said Timor-Leste MP Antonio Benevides.

In recent years, religion has often been used in the region to attack political enemies. One example discussed during the conference was the 2019 presidential elections in Indonesia, when supporters of President Joko Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto traded accusations about the rival candidate’s lack of commitment to Islam.

In Myanmar, the military and its proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), have often accused the National League for Democracy (NLD) of endangering Buddhism and being infiltrated by Muslims plotting to take over the country. Now, the junta that ousted the NLD government in an illegal coup d’état in February last year is attempting to use Buddhism to legitimize its rule.

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, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) board member and former member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.

This and other issues were discussed by lawmakers hailing from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines, who were attending the annual Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAPFoRB) conference in Jakarta on 16-17 October 2022.

The SEAPFoRB conference was hosted by APHR, together with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), and is part of an initiative to strengthen parliamentarians’ action to promote and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia.

On the second day of the conference, eight MPs visited the Indonesian House of Representatives to have a roundtable discussion with Indonesian MPs – including Luluk Nur Hamidah, Sylviana Murni, and Bobby Rizaldi – on the freedom of religion or belief situation in Indonesia.

“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. We also realize that protecting religious freedom is something that requires a global response,” said Luluk.

The conference concluded with a number of key conclusions and recommendations, including the need to provide counter-narratives toward intolerant messaging on social media and increasing engagement with other key stakeholders such as religious organizations and civil society.

Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right that is incredibly important to protect. MPs have a huge role to play in ensuring that protection.,” said Philippine MP Arlene Brosas.

Click here to read the statement in Indonesian.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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