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Indonesian Buddhist loses final appeal in blasphemy case

Supreme Court rejects woman's bid to overturn conviction for complaining about noise from mosque's loudspeakers

Indonesian Buddhist loses final appeal in blasphemy case

Meliana, a 44-year-old Buddhist woman appears in court during her blasphemy trial in Medan, North Sumatra in this Aug. 21, 2018 file photo. (Photo courtesy of Ranto Sibarani)

Indonesia’s Supreme Court has rejected a final appeal by a woman who was jailed for blasphemy last year for complaining about the noise from her local mosque’s loudspeakers.

In a March 27 ruling posted on its website on April 8, the court dismissed the appeal of Meliana, 44, an ethnic Chinese Buddhist and mother of four, who was jailed for 18 months last August by a court in Medan, North Sumatra.

The court did not give a reason for rejecting the appeal, despite senior figures in Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, saying her remarks should not be considered blasphemous.

One of the lawyers, Ranto Sibarani, condemned the ruling, saying it set a bad precedent for religious tolerance in the Muslim majority country.

"We’d hoped the Supreme Court would examine this case more objectively. But apparently, it did not,” he told ucanews.com.

According to Sibarani, the ruling appeared to legitimize false blasphemy accusations.

The charge stemmed from a private conversation Meliana had with neighbors in 2016 about how loud the mosque loudspeakers were in Tanjung Balai district.

Her lawyer said the conversation was twisted to suggest she was condemning the call to prayer.

This led to an angry mob burning 14 Buddhist temples in the area and Meliana’s house.

Rights groups said the case was another example of how Muslim hardliners are using the country’s blasphemy law to target adherents of minority religions.

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Surya Tjandra, a Catholic legal expert and spokesman for the Indonesian Solidarity Party, condemned the ruling and called Meliana "a victim of intolerance who should have been defended rather than punished."

In its latest report, rights group the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said that blasphemy cases in Indonesia had more than doubled last year.

Some 25 blasphemy cases were recorded in 2018, up dramatically from 9 cases in 2017.

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