New York City – Human Rights First urges United Nations member states, including the United States, to focus on religious violence in Indonesia as they examine the country’s human rights record this week. The organization notes that blasphemy laws in Indonesia have been used to justify discrimination and sometimes violence against religious minorities. In addition, violations of freedom of assembly and expression occur with increasing frequency against this backdrop of intolerance. During the first Universal Periodic Review cycle in April 2008, Indonesia described itself as a “multi-ethnic democracy” and recognized that in order to preserve its society it would need to protect and nurture values of “unity, harmony and tolerance.” The government also acknowledged its commitments and obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as the country’s constitutional guarantee for the promotion and protection of this “important right.” Despite these commitments, however, serious human rights abuses continue. “In just the last two weeks, grave problems relating to Indonesia’s blasphemy laws have resurfaced. We have seen an upsurge of religious violence as well as a crackdown on freedom of expression,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “Islamic groups disrupted the discussion of Irshad Manji’s book in South Jakarta. The writer also suffered minor injuries after a mob attack during her book launch at the Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKiS) Foundation in Yogyakarta. Days later, Lady Gaga’s concert was cancelled after protests led by similar groups. Threats and attacks are becoming a trend in Indonesia, and extremists use tactics of intimidation against those who wish to speak out and exercise their freedom of belief. What’s more, the police are not adequately protecting those who are being intimidated.” Fiss was in Indonesia last week to meet with civil society groups that work to combat violence and impunity in Indonesia, as well as to uphold freedom of religion and expression. Her trip preceded this week’s review of Indonesia’s human rights record. Human Rights First urges Indonesia to use the Universal Periodic Review process as an opportunity to repeal its blasphemy law or, at a minimum, amend the existing law to limit abuses by strengthening the requirements for proof of intent and evidence. Furthermore, Human Rights First urges the Indonesian authorities to protect and secure all those whose lives have been threatened or endangered due to blasphemy and related laws, including defenders of those accused of blasphemy, government officials, lawyers and judges who speak out against the blasphemy law. “Government officials should speak out against human rights abuses whenever such acts occur and, particularly in cases of violence, ensure that there is rapid and appropriate response from both law enforcement and criminal justice authorities,” concluded Fiss. “The rule of law must be upheld by investigating these violations of religious freedom, including violent acts against members of religious minorities.” Click here for the full submission of Human Rights First to the UPR review for Indonesia as well as Human Rights First report Blasphemy Laws Exposed.