Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Free Meiliana, Abolish Blasphemy Law: Civil Society Organizations

September 13, 2018 | 10:32 pm
Activists stand in solidarity with victims of the country's archaic blasphemy law in Jakarta on Wednesday (12/09). (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International Indonesia)
Activists stand in solidarity with victims of the country's archaic blasphemy law in Jakarta on Wednesday (12/09). (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International Indonesia)

Jakarta. Indonesian civil society organizations made a joint call on Wednesday (12/09) for the release of Meiliana, the Buddhist woman imprisoned last month after being convicted of blasphemy for complaining about the volume of the loudspeakers at a mosque near her home in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra.

The organizations that signed the joint declaration include the Nahdlatul Ulama Executive Board (PBNU), Amnesty International Indonesia, the Association of Indonesian Churches (PGI), Our Indonesia Movement (GITA) and the Supreme Council for the Confucian Religion in Indonesia (Matakin).

"We are urging the legal authorities in Indonesia to ensure justice for Meiliana, who was imprisoned simply for expressing her opinion peacefully," the statement read.

According to Amnesty International Indonesia data, 106 people were convicted for blasphemy between 2005 and 2014.

Meiliana is among five people imprisoned under the country's blasphemy law this year. There were at least 12 last year, Amnesty said.

Human rights activists, representatives of religious organizations and members of the public who came together during the solidarity event in Jakarta on Wednesday also called for either the removal or revision to Indonesia's archaic and problematic blasphemy law.

The court's ruling reinforced concerns about the arbitrary use of blasphemy laws, which limit freedom of expression and often discriminate against marginalized communities in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

"The imprisonment of Meiliana is a mistake, and that's why we are urging for her to be freed. This law should be removed," Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said during the event.

GITA chairman Alif Iman Nurlambang, whose organization initiated an online petition against the court's decision, said online support from hundreds and thousands of people show that there are still many who want to ensure that Indonesia is heading towards a more just future.

"Religion can never be tainted, that's why the blasphemy law doesn't make any sense … it showcases arrogance from adherents who consider themselves better than others," Alif said. Nearly 205,000 people have signed the petition since it was launched on Aug. 23.

Distrust, Prejudice

Last month the Medan District Court sentenced 44-year-old Meiliana, who is an ethnic Chinese, to 18 months in prison after founding her guilty of blasphemy for telling a neighbor that the Islamic call to prayer was too loud and asking the volume to be turned down.

Her remarks triggered mass protests and mob violence in the area, which led to crowds burning down several Buddhist monasteries and temples.

Riri Khariroh of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) said Meiliana's case was highly politicized and cannot be solely viewed from a criminal perspective.

Riri said Komnas Perempuan has closely monitored the case since 2016 and concluded that Meiliana's case is a trigger to existing social tensions and potential intergroup conflict in Tanjung Balai.

The commission previously said distrust, prejudice and a lack of peaceful dialogue between the diverse ethnic and religious communities in the city were exacerbated by social and economic disparities, as members of the ethnic Chinese community are generally perceived to be wealthier than those from other groups.

"Meiliana is a portrait of multilayered discrimination experienced by women, members of minority groups and of the ethnic Chinese community – all these make Meiliana much more vulnerable to being criminalized in a blasphemy case," Riri said.

She emphasized that the legal process in Meiliana's case was not simply unfair, but that it was also an example of mob justice, as evidenced by the significant pressure directed towards both Meiliana and the presiding judges.

"To avoid more victims from the blasphemy law, it's very important for this law to be revised, or to at least be placed under a moratorium," she said.

Komnas Perempuan also urged the government to ensure protection for Meiliana and her family, as the commission has received reports of ongoing intimidation.

The solidarity event also called highlighted other victims of the blasphemy law and demanded their release from prison. They include former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison in May last year for quoting a verse from the Koran.

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