Sometimes, as academics, we study the decisions of constitutional courts for their political and legal value. However, sometimes the most important impact of these decisions is on the lives of ordinary citizens. Sadly, a recent outrage in Indonesia reminds us that the decisions courts make can have grave consequences.
A while back, I mentioned a case in which Indonesia’s Mahkamah Konstitusi upheld the 1965 Blasphemy Law as applied to the Ahmadiyah sect. Now, as has been widely reported, less than a year later, a mob of Muslims attacks and stabbed three Ahmadis to death in a village not far from Jakarta. This has justly been portrayed as a black eye for Indonesia. The Economist accuses the government of “fudging” on protecting human rights. Yet, few commentators seem to have drawn the line back to the Mahkamah Konstitusi. Of course, the justices bear absolutely no blame for the violence – that lies solely at the feet of a small number of disturbed young men. Still, I can’t help but wonder if a clear moral mandate from the court might have sent a signal that suppression of minorities would not be tolerated.
In a recent speech, president SBY encouraged Indonesians to utilize legal means to resolve their disputes. I certainly hope more of his countrymen heed his advice.