Thursday August 23, 2018
Islamic groups criticise blasphemy sentence imposed on ethnic Chinese Buddhist who asked mosque to turn it down
Ethnic Chinese woman Meiliana weeps during her sentencing hearing at a district court in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photograph: Binsar Bakkara/AP
Indonesia’s largest Islamic bodies have denounced the jailing of a Buddhist woman in Sumatra, after she complained about the volume of the adzan, or call to prayer, from her local mosque.
The Medan district court sentenced Meiliana, a 44-year-old ethnic Chinese Buddhist, to 18 months in jail after she reportedly asked the mosque to turn it down.
The conviction under Indonesia’s controversial blasphemy law has been slammed by rights groups, with senior figures from Indonesia’s two largest Islamic bodies backing them. “I do not see how saying ‘adzan is too loud’ is an expression of hatred of hostility toward a particular group or religion,” said Robikin Emhas, head of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) legal division.
Robikin urged authorities to refrain from using blasphemy laws as “an instrument to supress freedom of expression” and said Indonesian Muslims should take such opinions as “constructive criticism”.
Critics argue that Indonesia’s blasphemy law is being used to arbitrarily attack minorities. Amnesty International Indonesia described the court decision as “ludicrous”.
Abdul Mu’ti, secretary of the Muhammadiyah Islamic organisation, suggested Meiliana had fallen victim to mob justice – a fate he compared to that of ex-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok.
Ahok was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for blasphemy in 2017 after he was found guilty of insulting the Koran.
“I assume that [Meiliana’s] case is similar to that of Ahok in which [the blasphemy conviction] is more of a result of pressure from the masses instead of the trial,” Abdul told the Jakarta Post.
Meiliana’s comments, made in July 2016, triggered an anti-Chinese riot in which several Buddhist temples were burned. Critics of her sentence have pointed out that those tried for damaging the temples were only given several months in prison while others were released. At the time local and national Islamic figures in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, pressured the police to release the rioters.
A lawyer for the Sumatran woman says her sentence will be appealed.