Indonesian activists issue call to free blasphemy victim

Petition seeks release of woman jailed for 18 months for complaining about noise from a mosque's loud speaker
Indonesian activists issue call to free blasphemy victim

Usman Hamid (right), executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, joins other activists in expressing their concern over the jailing of Meliana, a 44-year-old Buddhist woman sentenced to 18 months in prison for blasphemy. (Photo by Konradus Epa)

Activists, including Catholics, have launched an online petition calling for the release of a 44-year-old Buddhist woman sentenced to 18 months in jail for blasphemy.    

Meliana, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, was jailed by the Medan District Court in Sumatra on Aug. 21 after being arrested in Tanjung Balai for complaining to a neighbor about the call to prayer at a nearby mosque being too loud.

The case has sparked outrage and raised criticism over how the country's blasphemy laws are used.

The online petition called "Bebaskan Meliana, Tegakkan Toleransi" (release Meliana, uphold tolerance), was launched on Aug. 28 by a group of rights activists and public figures calling themselves Our Indonesia Movement. It seeks for Meliana to be released pending the results of her appeal.

More than 197,000 people have so-far signed the petition.

"We demand law enforcement officials free her at least for the duration of the legal process in order to uphold tolerance," Alif Iman Nurlambang, the group's coordinator, told ucanews.com.

"We respect the ongoing trial process but for the sake of justice and law enforcement in this country we need to uphold fairness," he said. 

Prasetyo Nurhardjanto from the Association of Catholic Graduates and Intellectuals of Indonesia echoed the call for Meliana's release by calling her original trial a farce

It "was grossly unfair and influenced by mass pressure" from hard-liners, he said. 

Usman Hamid, executive director of the Amnesty International Indonesia, said the court verdict against Meliana was "the result of hate propaganda."

In a statement issued on Aug. 30, the rights group said although the blasphemy law was enacted in 1965, it was used to prosecute only around 10 individuals between 1965 and 1998, when former President Suharto was in power during which the right to freedom of expression was severely curtailed.

Between 2005 and 2014, at least 106 individuals were prosecuted and convicted under the law, Amnesty said.

More recently former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, was jailed in 2017, under the blasphemy law over a remark made during a campaign speech.  

Meliana's lawyer, Ranto Sibarani, also said she was the victim of an unfair trial.

He also called for her release while her appeal is being processed so that "her case will not set a bad precedent among law enforcement officials in Indonesia."

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