Activists pan silent shelving of Islamic law draft revision

A coalition of women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) criticized on Wednesday the government's recent decision to ban any discussion of the draft revision of the Islamic Family Law Code.

The group of 27 NGOs -- including Mitra Perempuan, Puan Amal Hayati and Fatayat Nadhlatul Ulama -- said the decision was a violation of the people's right to freedom of expression.

"At a time when people are more hopeful than ever of change -- as promised by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- Minister of Religious Affairs M. Maftuh Basyuni has endorsed a decision that violates the people's rights," the coalition said in a statement made available to the media on Wednesday.

The statement came after former minister of religious affairs Said Agil Al Munawwar banned any discussion of the draft revision of the Islamic Family Law Code.

The decision was endorsed on Tuesday by Maftuh, who was installed as a minister last week.

After a meeting with the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) on Tuesday, Maftuh said the draft revision should be put on ice as it had stirred controversy and confused the public.

The coalition said, rather than shelving the draft revision, the public should be made more aware of its contents.

"Banning the discussion of Islamic law contradicts one of the principles of Islam, which allows differences of opinion," the coalition said.

Controversy over the draft revision came to the surface toward the end of Said's tenure, when a team under the ministry proposed amendments to the 1991 Islamic Family Law Code. The draft was compiled by a team led by Muslim gender expert Siti Musdah Mulia.

The move was hailed by some moderate Muslim scholars, who said that it could be part of a "revolution" in sharia.

However, the draft, which allows interfaith marriage, prohibits polygamy and promotes gender equality, was opposed by mainstream and right-wing Islamic law experts.

Mounting criticism persuaded the minister to ban any discussion of the draft revision and to shelve the draft itself.