In­done­sia blas­phemy woman en­dures cramped cell, bad food: group

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Asean Focus -

A RIGHTS group says the In­done­sian woman im­pris­oned for blas­phemy af­ter com­plain­ing about noise from a mosque is shar­ing a cramped cell with 16 other women and given “ter­ri­ble” food.

Hu­man Rights Watch re­searcher An­dreas Har­sono said the eth­nic Chi­nese woman, Meil­iana, was emo­tional but tough when he and other sup­port­ers vis­ited her in prison in Medan this week. “She was sob­bing when talk­ing to us,” Har­sono said Thurs­day in a state­ment about the visit. “The cell is about 30 square me­tres. The food is ter­ri­ble,” he said.

The case has high­lighted how In­done­sia’s blas­phemy law has be­come a tool for Is­lamic hard­lin­ers to per­se­cute fol­low­ers of mi­nor­ity re­li­gions.

Meil­iana, who uses one name, was sen­tenced to 18 months in prison last month. She was charged in May, nearly two years af­ter her com­ments sparked ri­ots in Tan­jung Balai, a Su­ma­tran port town.

Her hus­band and two sons feared for their safety and moved to Medan, said Go­mar Gul­tom, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Com­mu­nion of Churches in In­done­sia.

He wrote on Face­book af­ter vis­it­ing Meil­iana that she was a “great per­son who dared to voice some­thing that has been buried in the hearts of many peo­ple, maybe even in the hearts of some ra­tio­nal-minded Mus­lim friends.”

In­done­sia’s largest Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tion, Nahd­latul Ulama, has crit­i­cised the con­vic­tion and said the com­plaint wasn’t blas­phe­mous. A civil so­ci­ety group is rais­ing funds for an ap­peal.

Meil­iana’s or­deal be­gan in July 2016 when she asked if the vol­ume of the loud­speak­ers at her neigh­bour­hood mosque could be low­ered.

Ru­mours spread in Tan­jung Balai that she wanted to stop the five-timesa-day call to prayer. Days later mobs at­tacked her home and burned and ran­sacked at least 14 Bud­dhist tem­ples.

“The po­lice were busy deal­ing with the ri­ots. But they also ques­tioned Meil­iana. She was not charged but needed to re­port to the po­lice once a week for two years,” said Har­sono. “But the case did not go away. Pres­sure from Is­lamists made the po­lice hand over the case to the blas­phemy law of­fice.”

Since 2004, 147 peo­ple have been im­pris­oned un­der blas­phemy or re­lated laws, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch. The num­ber of cases has slowed since 2014 un­der Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Last year, former Jakarta gov­er­nor Ba­suki “Ahok” Tja­haja Pur­nama, a Chris­tian, was im­pris­oned for two years af­ter be­ing found guilty of blas­phemy for com­ments made dur­ing his re-elec­tion cam­paign. – AP

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