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Woman's jail term under attack across Indonesia

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Comment on mosque speaker's volume

Woman's jail term under attack across Indonesia
Meliana, a 44-year-old Buddhist, in court in Medan, Sumatra, on Tuesday. The mother of four was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to 11/2 years in prison for commenting on the volume of the call to prayer from a mosque speaker.
Published5 hours ago

Civil society groups, Muslim organisations question use of blasphemy clause in case

Criticism has mounted, even among Muslims, over the jailing of an Indonesian woman of Chinese descent for her comments to a neighbour about the volume of the azan (call to prayer) from the speaker of a community mosque.

Civil society groups and lawyers denounced the verdict as excessive and silly while the two biggest Muslim organisations in the country, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, questioned the use of the blasphemy clause against the woman.

"I do not see how saying 'azan is too loud' is an expression of hatred or hostility towards a particu lar group or religion," Mr Robikin Emhas, head of the legal, human rights and legislation department at Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation with more than 80 million members, was quoted as saying in a statement.

The blasphemy clause should not be used to "bulldoze" anyone's right to express opinions and Muslims should consider such opinions as "constructive criticism in a plural society", he said.

Muhammadiyah secretary Abdul Mu'ti, who described the woman's 11/2-year jail sentence as "too heavy", suggested that an in-depth study be conducted to review blasphemy-related articles and laws.

One expert on syariah or Islamic law also doubted if the woman had blasphemed. "Anyone's response to azan cannot be construed as a response to a religious teaching, hence cannot be considered as a blasphemy," said Mr Rumadi Ahmad, a teacher at the syariah and law faculty of the Syarif Hi dayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

Meliana, 44, a Buddhist, was found guilty on Tuesday of blasphemy by the Medan district court in North Sumatra. The mother of four is a resident of Tanjung Balai sub-district in the eastern part of the province. Her husband, a labourer at a local swallow's nest farm which supplies bird's nests to restaurants, lost his job because of her trial.

This week's verdict was the result of an old case dating back to 2016 and it has not been clear why local prosecutors revived it. On July 22, 2016, Meliana was speaking with the owner of a small convenience store, who was her neighbour, when she referred to the volume of the speaker at the nearby mosque, saying it had become louder.

The neighbour then conveyed what Meliana told her to her family members and it started to spread. Soon it turned into a rumour that Meliana was trying to ban the Muslim call to prayer. This quickly spread on social media which the n triggered riots as Muslims, offended by the remarks, went on the rampage. Several Buddhist temples were burned in what was believed to be the worst bout of anti-Chinese violence in the country since 1998.

Several people were later convicted of looting, destroying property and inciting violence. They were sentenced to jail for between one and four months.

A team of lawyers representing Meliana said in a statement yesterday that prosecutors had failed to provide adequate evidence to establish the fact that a crime had been committed. "The indictment stated that the crime was committed on July 29, 2016, where in fact on that date, Meliana became a victim of a mob who descended on her house... who then vandalised and burned her house," the lawyers said.

They insisted their client only did what other housewives in the neighbourhood normally do, which is to chat with each other. "While doing her shopping that day, she confided to the store owner sayin g the volume of the mosque loudspeaker is high nowadays. It wasn't so last time," the lawyers said. They are appealing against the verdict.

Dozens of people, including former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, have been jailed under Indonesia's controversial blasphemy laws, the Jakarta Post reported.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) on Wednesday said its records show that the blasphemy articles had been used against minority groups.

"From ICJR's records, the blasphemy articles are always used in a context where the defendant is considered to insult the majority religion," the Jakarta Post quoted ICJR executive director Anggara, who goes by one name, as saying in a statement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2018, with the headline 'Woman's jail term under attack across Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe Topi cs:

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Source: Google News Indonesia | Netizen 24 Indonesia

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