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Indonesia Drafts Religion Legislation to 'Protect All Faiths'

FILE - Balinese masked dancers prepare to perform during Hindu rituals of Odalan, a festival to observe a temple’s anniversary, in Bali, Indonesia, Oct. 8, 2014.

The Indonesian government says it is drafting new legislation to protect citizens of all faiths in the world's largest Muslim majority nation.

Minister of Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin said Tuesday that the bill was a follow-up response to the many religious conflicts that potentially could disrupt the nation.

The draft being worked out would regulate requirements that range from building houses of worship to disseminating or broadcasting precepts of any religion. He emphasized that the draft included protection for all citizens, minorities and majorities.

"The core of the bill to protect all faiths is to give protection to citizens, as stated in the constitution, which is freedom of religion and to practice the religion they choose," Syaifuddin said.

The government plans to introduce the draft legislation in early 2015. The minister said the legislation would replace a 1965 law that many consider outdated.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute, a local human rights group, said he hoped the bill would include details of actions the government must take to protect followers of all faiths.

“Without specifying the protection measures from the state, discriminations and violations against freedom of religion would always occur against citizens," Naipospos said. "The level of protection by the government needs to be taken into account."

According to the Setara Institute, a record 222 violations against freedom of religion occurred in 2013.

News of the draft legislation followed an announcement last week that citizens of faiths other than the six officially recognized by the government do not have to choose one of the six in the religion column of the national identification card.

Interior Minister Tjahyo Kumolo said the change was needed because the religion choice provision was causing many Indonesians to avoid getting national ID cards.

The six officially recognized religions in Indonesia are Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Indonesian service.

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