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Clerics seek blasphemy charge against Indonesian newspaper

Jakarta Post apologizes for cartoon; Islamic group says apology not enough

Katharina R. Lestari and Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

July 16, 2014

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An Indonesian Muslim group filed a complaint yesterday against an English-language newspaper which it has accused of blasphemy for an editorial cartoon in its July 3 print edition.

The Jakarta Post cartoon criticized the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has reportedly committed executions and other acts of violence in Iraq. The cartoon's phrase "La ilaha illallaah" (there is no God but God) was presented on a flag with a skull, which is typically identified with pirates.

"The caricature has an impression … as if Islam is a cruel religion, which likes to shed blood just like the pirates," Edy Mulyadi of the Jakarta Preachers' Corps told on Wednesday.

"The caricature is published in the opinion column. Just like an editorial, it represents the editor's official stance. The Jakarta Post arrogantly declares hostility and blasphemy against Islam, which is adhered to by the majority in Indonesia," he said.

The corps accused the newspaper of violating Indonesia's criminal code on blasphemy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Mulyadi met with newspaper's editor on July 8 and was offered an apology.

"For such a cruel blasphemy against Islam, an apology isn't enough. Perpetrators must be given a strong and strict sanction. That's why we filed a police report," he said.

The Jakarta Post also published an official apology in its July 8 edition, saying the "cartoon contained religious symbolism that may have been offensive to some". 

"The Post regrets the error in judgment, which was in no way meant to malign or be disrespectful to any religion," the apology read.

Yosep Stanley Adhi Prasetyo of the Press Council said that while the preachers' corps has the right to file a complaint, charging The Jakarta Post with a crime would violate "principals of press freedom".

He said the only problem with the cartoon was that it didn't clearly explain that it was a critique of the ISIL.

"Our grassroots couldn't understand the caricature and had different interpretation," he said.

But Mulyadi said Stanley's explanation was not an adequate defense.

"Stanley isn't a Muslim. How could he say that Muslims in Indonesia didn't understand the meaning of the caricature? If he was a Muslim, he definitely knew that 'La ilaha illallaah' are words that must be highly upheld," he said.

Meanwhile, National Police Inspector-General Ronny F. Sompie said that police will coordinate its investigation with the Press Council.

"It's too early to say that the case is blasphemy. It tends to be a violation against the law on press," he said.

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