Indonesian Prosecutors Demand 4 Years for Shiite Leader Over Alleged Blasphemy
The Sampang prosecutors office in East Java on Wednesday demanded a four-year prison term for a local leader of the Shiite branch of Islam, on charges of blasphemy.
“This morning prosecutors read their demand at Sampang District Court; they asked for four years under the charges of Article 156, Paragraph A of the Criminal Code,” Akhol Firdaus, spokesman for the Center for Marginalized Community Studies (CMARS), which is monitoring the trial, told the Jakarta Globe.
The article Akhol referred to considers blasphemy a criminal offense against the public and is punishable with up to five years in prison.
Tajul Muluk from Sampang, a district in East Java’s island of Madura, has been detained since April following an investigation by East Java Police that ultimately charged him with blasphemy and committing “offensive action.”
Human rights activists condemned the arrest, as local authorities seemed to overlook the fact that more than 300 members of Tajul’s Shiite community were displaced when a mob of 500 people attacked and burned houses, a boarding school and a place of worship in December.
Requests by legal organizations for the trial to be moved to Jakarta, where there would be more advocacy groups, media and nongovernmental organizations to monitor the case, were also denied by police.
According to Akhol, Tajul has received intimidation and threats during his detention, mostly by fellow inmates.
“They know who he is and they often gave him verbal threats that they were going to kill him; they also throw things at him,” he said.
In their indictment, prosecutors accuse Tajul of telling his students that the Koran, as they knew it, was not the original sacred text.
Indonesia’s Shiite community fell victim to 15 incidents of religious violence and discrimination in the first six months of 2012, according to the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, ranking it third after Christians and violations against individuals.
In 2011, violations against the group totaled only 10 incidents for the whole year.
“This number will grow,” said Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch, citing discriminative regulation and lax punishment for rights violators as the main causes.
Earlier this year, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali proclaimed Shia a deviant sect, a declaration that was followed by a similar edict from the East Java branch of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI).
Shiite followers have also faced discrimination in other instances, such as being denied medical treatment at a health center (Puskesmas) in Sampang, and forced eviction in Ternate, North Maluku.