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Cleric gets two years for blasphemy

Rights groups say verdict unconstitutional and violates freedom of religion and expression

Human rights groups have criticized the sentencing yesterday of a Shia cleric in East Java to two years in prison for blasphemy. The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) said the verdict against Tajul Muluk violated the national charter. “The verdict harms religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution in Indonesia,” said Wahyudi Djafar, researcher of law and human rights at ELSAM. Mulak and more than 300 other Shia villagers from Nangkrenang village were driven from their homes in December last year by a mob of some 500 people that burned homes, a boarding school and a Shia mosque. He was arrested in April after reportedly receiving death threats from critics and even from police. During the trial, witnesses for the prosecution told the court Muluk had taught that the Koran was not an authentic text of Islam, that Muslims should only pray three times a day and that the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was not obligatory. The court convicted Muluk of causing public anxiety under Article 156(a) of the Criminal Code, which concerns the prevention of religious abuse. Traditional Islamic teaching holds that the hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and that Muslims should pray five times a day. Djafar said the verdict was unfair, particularly as only one of the attackers was charged and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement yesterday that Muluk was a prisoner of conscience. “That Tajul Muluk was charged and imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is itself a violation of his human rights, and should never have taken place.” The charges and sentence violated Indonesia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the country’s constitution, the statement added. AI said Article 156(a) of the Criminal Code “continues to be used to imprison people for as long as five years, simply because they have peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression or their right to freedom of religion.” Related reports Protect minority Muslims, Amnesty tells Indonesia

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