Lawyers for Shiite Cleric Fear a ‘Rubber Stamp’ Verdict in Blasphemy Case
Surabaya. Lawyers for a Shiite cleric standing trial for blasphemy in Sampang, East Java, have highlighted glaring irregularities in the trial, one day before the verdict is due to be handed down.
Faiq Ashidiqie, one of the lawyers for Tajul Muluk, said on Wednesday that from the very beginning of the trial at the Sampang District Court, prosecutors had portrayed the Shiite faith as subservient to the Sunni majority.
“Yet the difference between the two is simply a matter of theology that has long been recognized and accepted,” he said.
He said that all the prosecution witnesses presented at the hearings appeared to have been called just to denounce Tajul’s teachings and not to actually testify about the case in question.
Tajul was arrested in April for allegedly telling his students that the Koran was not the original holy text for Muslims.
Faiq said that at least four of the witnesses lied when they declared the Shiite faith a “heretical belief,” despite the fact that it was the second-largest denomination of Islam in the world, with about 200 million followers.
One witness was Abdussomad Buchori, chairman of the provincial chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI).
“This witness, when asked by prosecutors, said that the defendant’s teachings had caused unrest and disturbed the public peace. By saying this, the witness was acting as if he was the judge,” Faiq said.
Akhol Firdaus, spokesman for the Center for Marginalized Community Studies (CMARS), which is monitoring the trial, questioned the credibility of the verdict, due to be issued today, since the closing arguments were delivered on Tuesday.
“That’s far too short a time frame for the judges to reach a proper verdict,” he said. “We fear the verdict will be a rubber-stamp ruling to appease the majority faith.”
He said his organization was concerned that law enforcers were too hasty and rash in prosecuting cases where the sensibilities of Sunni Muslims had allegedly been offended by teachings from other faiths.
“Local authorities should consult with the central government on whether a case constitutes a religious dispute or not,” Akhol said. “The central government has been very cautious about this particular case, but the local authorities have done the opposite.”
Prosecutors have sought a four-year sentence for Tajul under the Criminal Code article on blasphemy and inciting religious hatred. The article carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Indonesia’s Shiite community has been targeted in 15 incidents of religious violence and discrimination since January, up from 10 such incidents the previous year, according to the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy.