Seminar: Blasphemy: The Interplay between Law, Politics, and Religion in Indonesia


About the Seminar

On 9 May 2017 – less than a year after his purportedly blasphemous speech – the former Jakarta Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years imprisonment. The case and the verdict that followed polarized Indonesians: on one end of the spectrum, there are those who believe he should be freed of trumped-up charges of blasphemy; on the other end, are individuals and groups who thought that his sentence was inadequate.

In any case, the blasphemy saga surrounding Ahok – due to its high profile and politically-charged nature – has emerged as a test case not only for religious tolerance in Indonesia, but also for the rule of law and politicization of religion. It raises crucial questions: were the charge, prosecution, and conviction legally justified? To what extent do ethno-religious issues factor into the overall development and outcome of the case? What were the broader political circumstances at play?

This presentation will highlight the interaction between law and politics in the Blasphemy Law conviction involving the former Jakarta governor and in cases implicating issues of religion, more generally. It will argue that law (and law enforcement) cannot be separated from the games of power and broader politics of society. The governor’s conviction places the rule of law and democracy in Indonesia at a critical juncture, but more importantly, the context of the case indicates a strengthening susceptibility to the politicization of ethno-religious sentiments. The presentation will also draw on similar experiences from neighbouring countries in Asia.

About the Speaker

Dian A. H. Shah is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS). She graduated with an LL.B from the University of Warwick and earned her doctorate and masters degrees from Duke University. Her research interests span the fields of constitutional history, comparative constitutional law, and human rights, focusing on issues arising from the interaction between law, religion, and politics in Asia. She has spent a considerable amount of time researching in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. Dian has previously published her works in several international journals and collaborative academic publications and is also a frequent guest lecturer at selected universities in Indonesia. She recently completed her first monograph entitled “Constitutions, Religion, and Politics in Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka” (CUP, forthcoming November 2017) and is the Co-Editor (with Andrew Harding) of a book on “Law and Society in Malaysia: Pluralism, Ethnicity, and Religion” (Routledge, forthcoming 2017).  Dian also serves as the Deputy Editor of the Asian Journal of Comparative Law.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 5 June 2017.


Jun 06 2017


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2