Southeast Asian parliamentarians warn against ‘politicization of religion’

A group of parliamentarians in Southeast Asia has called for “religious freedom to be maintained” and warned against making religion a “political weapon”. 28 Oct 2022

Lawmakers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, East Timor, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines attend the annual Southeast Asian Freedom of Religion or Belief Parliamentarians in Jakarta on October 16-17, 2022. (Photo courtesy of APHR)

JAKARTA: A group of parliamentarians in Southeast Asia have called for “religious freedom to be maintained” and warned to make religion a “political weapon”.

Members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) noted what they described as “rising conservatism and discrimination against minorities worldwide”.

“Religion is too often used as a political tool, especially in election years,” East Timor MP Antonio Benevides said at a conference in Jakarta.

Benevides stressed the importance of parliamentarians “connecting with each other and discussing strategies to combat such tactics” ahead of scheduled elections in Malaysia, Indonesia and East Timor.

Lawmakers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, East Timor, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines attended the annual Southeast Asian Freedom of Religion or Belief Parliamentarians in Jakarta on October 16-17.

“The world is not right at the moment and we need to work together to make it better by ensuring that everyone enjoys basic rights, including freedom of religion and belief, especially minorities,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, an Indonesian member of the council of board of APHR.

APHR noted that in recent years “religion has often been used in Southeast Asia to attack political enemies”.

The group cited Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election as an example, where supporters of President Joko Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto exchanged accusations about the rival candidate’s lack of commitment to Islam.

In a roundtable discussion, Indonesian MP Luluk Nur Hamidah assured that Indonesia “celebrates all six religions, as well as the many indigenous beliefs practiced here.”

“But given the sheer diversity here, we face a major challenge in continuing to develop respect for plurality in order to maintain the ‘Unity in Diversity’, which is our national motto,” she said.

“We also realize that protecting religious freedom is something that requires a global response,” the Indonesian parliamentarian added.

In Myanmar, the military and the Union Solidarity and Development Party have accused the National League for Democracy of endangering Buddhism and of being infiltrated by Muslims plotting to take over the country.

In recent months, the military junta that toppled the NLD government in a coup in February last year has attempted to use Buddhism to supposedly legitimize its rule. –LiCAS News

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