Meiliana, left, was sentenced this week by the Medan District Court to 18 months in prison for saying that the Islamic call to prayer coming from a mosque near her home in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, was too loud. (Antara Photo/Septianda Perdana)

Tens of Thousands Stand With Woman Jailed in Mosque Loudspeaker Case


AUGUST 24, 2018

Jakarta. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition against a court decision sentencing an Indonesian woman of Chinese descent on blasphemy charges for complaining that a mosque's loudspeaker was too noisy.

The ruling has reinforced concerns about the arbitrary use of blasphemy laws, which limit freedom of expression in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

The Medan District Court this week found 44-year-old Meiliana, who is a Buddhist, guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to 18 months in prison for saying that the Islamic call to prayer coming from a mosque near her home in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, was too loud.

The incident, which took place in 2016, triggered mass protests and mob violence in the region, with crowds burning down several Buddhist monasteries and temples.

Vice chairman of human rights group Setara Institute, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, said on Friday (24/08) the court's decision reflects a pattern in blasphemy cases, where there is pressure from the masses.

"Is Meiliana guilty? Did she incite hostility? Her statement cannot be categorized as such, nor can it be categorized as blasphemy. The court is misguided,"” Bonar told the Jakarta Globe.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who also heads the Indonesian Mosques Council (DMI), said a complaint from a member of the public on the volume of a mosque's speaker is not a criminal offense.

"I'm not entirely sure what Meiliana was protesting, whether it was a recitation or call to prayer. But of course if there's a complaint from a member of the public, it should not lead to conviction," Kalla said, as quoted by Suara Pembaruan.

Thousands of Indonesians have since expressed their support through an online petition to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, which has been signed by more than 100,000 as of Friday afternoon.

The petition, which started on Wednesday, is pushing for Meiliana to be freed. It also requests that the panel of judges that sentenced Meiliana be reviewed and that the Ministry of Religious Affairs issue a regulation on the use of loudspeakers by mosques.

Amnesty International Indonesia called the court's decision "ludicrous" and a "flagrant violation" of freedom of expression.

The executive board of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest independent Muslim organization, has also denounced the verdict.

According to Robikin Emhas, the board's head of legal affairs and human rights, Meiliana's complaint did not constitute blasphemy.

In a statement, Jakarta-based Institute for Criminal Justice Reform warned that the court's decision will have a negative impact on tolerance in Indonesia and may further erode the rights of minority groups.

According to ICJR, Indonesia's blasphemy law has always been used to prosecute individuals accused of insulting the majority religion.

Human Rights Watch warned the law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities.