Legal Scholars Back Shiite Cleric Jailed for Blasphemy
Legal scholars poring over the trial and conviction of a Shiite cleric for blasphemy earlier this year have lambasted the episode as a study in the miscarriage of justice and called for an investigation by the Supreme Court and Judicial Commission.
Muhammad Arif Setiawan, a lecturer at the Indonesian Islamic University’s Law School, said at a discussion on Monday that the trial of Tajul Muluk at the Sampang District Court in Madura Island, East Java, did not meet “academic standards” and was “legally flawed.”
“All trials, when they are studied in retrospect, must meet a certain set of academic standards, but this one didn’t,” he said.
Tajul was sentenced to two years in jail on July 12 for telling students that the Koran was not the original holy text for Muslims, and that Muslims should pray three times a day instead of five. A month later, the Shiite community in Sampang was attacked by a mob of Sunni Muslims, leaving two dead and several injured.
Legal analysts found several irregularities in the way the case was handled.
“First, there was a problem with the investigation on which the charges were based,” Arif said.
“Several of the witnesses who were questioned by police did not speak Bahasa Indonesia, yet their statements presented at the trial were given in Bahasa.”
Arif said a far more serious issue was the court’s decision on which witnesses were allowed to testify.
“All of the witnesses were allowed, except the one who professed to being a Shiite and a follower of Tajul’s. So the Shiite side of the issue was swept aside,” he said.
Zahru Arqom, a lecturer at Gadjah Mada University’s Law School, agreed that the selection of witnesses was unfair.
He also took issue with the court’s refusal to admit Tajul’s personal Koran as evidence, which Zahru argued would have exonerated the cleric of the allegations against him.
“The court could have studied the Koran to compare its contents and teachings [with a mainstream Koran],” he said.
He also argued that the blasphemy charge brought against Tajul was inapplicable in the case.
“He was accused of heretical thinking, but for that charge to apply, there would have had to be a formal warning issued first by the authorities,” he said.
“So the charge was based purely on fatwas [Islamic edicts] on heresy, and the expert witnesses presented to expound on this charge were not testifying from any recognized legal base. Yet the court overlooked this.”
Zahru said there was also a problem with the second charge, that of causing criminal mischief.
“This charge is a criminal charge and hence distinct [from the blasphemy charge]. Yet this distinction was never made clear at the trial and the court should not have used it as the basis for the sentencing. The defendant should have been freed,” he said.
Zahru added that Tajul had since mounted an appeal with the Supreme Court, and said he hoped that this would lead to the Sampang District Court’s proceedings being scrutinized by the nation’s highest court.
“The Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission should be investigating this matter,” Zahru said.
“It is far better to free 1,000 guilty people than to jail one innocent person.”