An Indonesian court has sentenced a woman to 18 months imprisonment on blasphemy charges. The woman had complained that a mosque near her house was creating noise during its call for prayer. The court pronounced her guilty of “insulting Islam,” and jailed her.
Details emerge that a district court in North of Sumatra heard the case of 44-year-old Meiliana, a Chinese Buddhist. She had allegedly asked the mosque near her house to lower the volume of the sound, during prayer, because the loud sound was hurting her ears. Back in 2016, when Meilana had complained about the mosque’s speakers volume, her comments gave rise to riots; while the rioters attacked at least 14 Buddhist temples across Tanjung Balai, Sumatra’s port town.
As the court announced the verdict, Meiliana, reportedly burst into tears as the presiding Judge Wahyu Prasetyo Wibowo announced that she is to serve an 18 months imprisonment. Police took her from the court in handcuffs. The prosecutors maintained that she had committed blasphemy by violating the criminal code. On the other hand, her defense counsel said that his client would challenge the verdict. A religious group maintains that her sentence was too light. The maximum sentence for this offence is five years in prison.
Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director, Mr. Usman Hamid reacted to this verdict saying: “This ludicrous decision is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression. Sentencing someone to 18 months in prison for something so trivial is a stark illustration of the increasingly arbitrary and repressive application of the blasphemy law in the country”. He urged the court to reverse the decision.
Although Indonesian constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but since 2004, at least 147 people have received imprisonment sentences on blasphemy or related charges. Nonetheless, the number of blasphemy cases lowered since 2014, under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration. Last year the governor of Jakarta, a Chinese Christian was also convicted of blasphemy and imprisoned for two years.