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Indonesia lawyers back blasphemy rap against Muslim cleric

Almost 150 voice support for Catholic students angry over comments allegedly mocking birth of Jesus

Indonesia lawyers back blasphemy rap against Muslim cleric

Catholic students have reported Muslim cleric Habib Rizieq Syihab for allegedly mocking the birth of Christ. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

Almost 150 lawyers have lent their support to a blasphemy case brought by the Indonesian Catholic Student's Association against a prominent Muslim hardliner.

The case comes amid another blasphemy controversy involving Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok. He is standing trial for allegedly insulting the Quran

Angelo Wake Kako, chairman of the association, told ucanews.com on Jan 3 that the lawyers were not only Catholics but came from other religions as well. "They offered to help us in facing this case," Kako said.

On Dec 26, the Catholic students reported Muslim cleric Habib Rizieq Syihab to the police for allegedly committing blasphemy in a speech circulated on the internet.

In the 22-second long video, Rizieq is recorded saying, "If God gave birth, then who would be the midwife?"

The statement, which the student’s association took as mocking the birth of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, was delivered during a sermon in West Jakarta on Dec 25 and was followed by laughter from the audience.

The Catholic students also reported two other people, Fauzi Ahmad, who uploaded the video onto Instagram and Saya Reya, who uploaded the video onto Twitter.

Kako said Catholic students felt insulted and hurt by Syihab’s statement, labeling it intolerant of Indonesia's diversity.

"All Indonesians should respect diversity by not interfering in the private rooms of other religions. Only Christians know about the Christian faith. Anyone who doesn’t know about it better shut up," Kako said.

Syihab is accused of violating Article 156 section (a) of the Criminal Code on blasphemy; a charge that carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison.
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Although articles relating to blasphemy remain controversial, with many parties calling for their removal from the Criminal Code, Kako told ucanews.com that as the article still exists, their case it is legitimate.

In response Syihab issued a statement on his website pointing out that he had hosted interfaith dialogues and that "all religious leaders are satisfied and happy" with his conduct in inter-faith matters.

"Syihab never insulted any religion," the statement said. "Do not spread slander. Be careful, Muslims can be wrathful and anger can explode."

Meanwhile, Petrus Selestinus, coordinator of the Catholic student's legal team, said that by reporting Syihab, the students were performing their duty as a civil society organization.

"This is not an effort to incite enmity between Catholics and Muslims. What they are doing is to help each person respect each other," Selestinus said.

Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, lecturer of theology at the Jakarta-based Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy, agrees with the students about the merits of the blasphemy case.

Coming at a time when Christians were celebrating the birth of Christ, Syihab's comments were deliberately insulting and aimed to harass Christians, Fr. Aman said.  

"There is intent to offend the doctrine of the incarnation and the intent to provoke laughter, " he said.

He added that even if the statement was delivered in the context of Islamic teaching about Jesus Christ, it shouldn't lead to laughter.

"Is their view, Jesus can be reduced to a laughing stock?," he said.

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