Indonesia’s President has blamed rising religious intolerance in the country on democracy.

Joko Widodo said democracy has “gone too far” and that “political freedom paved the way for extreme political practices”.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for the Asia region, Phelim Kine, wrote that while Indonesia “unquestionably has a problem with worsening religious intolerance and growing political clout of militant Islamists”, it is government policies that have “empowered” these militant groups.

“Jokowi’s scapegoating of democracy for these ills is disingenuous,” he wrote. “The escalation in religious intolerance and related violence can be traced back to 2005, when then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono effectively legitimized religious intolerance by vowing strict measures against ‘deviant beliefs’. During his decade in office, Yudhoyono turned a blind eye to worsening acts of discrimination, harassment, and violence by militant Islamists against religious minorities. The complicity of police and government officials in this intolerance has continued unchecked under Jokowi.”

Kine added that the country’s legal system “perpetuates discrimination against religious minorities” through laws such as those requiring approval for the construction of places of worship, and the blasphemy law, under which Jakarta’s Christian governor is among those currently facing charges.