Indonesia court upholds blasphemy verdict against woman who complained about Muslim call to prayer

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's Supreme Court has upheld the blasphemy verdict against a Buddhist woman who was convicted for complaining about the volume of the adzan (Islamic call to prayer).

In a ruling dated March 27 and posted on the court's website on Monday (April 8), the panel of justices rejected the appeal by Meiliana, a Chinese-Indonesian resident of Tanjungbalai, North Sumatra, and upheld her 18-month prison sentence.

Supreme Court spokesman Abdullah confirmed the ruling, although he said that he did not yet know the justices' considerations in the case. "We are still waiting for the process to be completed," Abdullah said.

The case of Meiliana, who is the first person to have been sentenced to jail for complaining about the volume of a mosque's speakers, dated back to 2016 when she reportedly said the adzan was "too loud" and "hurt" her ears.

She asked a neighbour to lower the speaker's volume, but her private comment, which became the talk of residents in the following days, enraged Muslims who claimed to have been offended by her remarks.

Rumours quickly spread that a woman of Chinese descent wanted to "ban the adzan". It further snowballed and triggered a riot that saw a mob burn and destroy several Buddhist temples in the city.

The Supreme Court ruling met with immediate criticism from human rights groups, who argued that it further tarnished the reputation of Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, which used to be beacon of tolerance.

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said while the ruling was disappointing, it had anticipated the outcome as no one who has been charged with blasphemy in Indonesia has ever been acquitted. "We always see that in a blasphemy case in Indonesia, such as in Meiliana's case, the pressure from the masses usually determines the course of the ruling," Usman said.

 

He pointed out that the police charged Meiliana with blasphemy amid public pressure following the issuance of a fatwa by the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council, which deemed Meiliana's complaint "demeaning and insulting toward Islam".

Indonesia officially recognises six religions, however, rising conservatism - coupled with the implementation of the Blasphemy Law - has seen people from minority religious groups fall victim to intolerance.

One of the most high-profile victims of the draconian law to date was former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, who was sentenced to jail for blasphemy following a string of sectarian rallies staged by Muslim conservatives.

Institute for Criminal Justice Reform executive director Anggara called the ruling a "bad precedent for freedom of expression and religion" in the country.

When Meiliana was sentenced to jail last year, executives of the country's two largest Islamic organisations, namely the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, criticised the verdict, saying that such complaints should not be regarded as blasphemous.

Meiliana's lawyer Ranto Sibarani said he was surprised at the court's ruling as he expected the justices to grant the appeal, saying that there was no evidence that she had committed blasphemy or attempted to ban the adzan in Tanjungbalai.