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Islamic preacher probed over anti-Widodo sermon

Police accuse Bahar bin Smith of hate speech for calling Indonesian president 'a shemale'

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Islamic preacher probed over anti-Widodo sermon

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin declare their candidacy in front of supporters in Jakarta in this Aug. 10 file photo. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

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Indonesian police have called out a prominent Islamic preacher for allegedly spreading hate speech and delivering a sermon two years ago in which he described President Joko Widodo as a transsexual.

Bahar bin Smith was announced as a suspect in the case on Dec. 6 after police had grilled him for 10 hours while some of his followers, including hardline Muslims, protested outside the Jakarta police office.

Smith was reported by one of the president's support groups, Jokowi Mania, on Nov. 27 based on a recorded video of his sermon delivered during an Islamic festival in Palembang, South Sumatra, in 2016.

In the video, he called Jokowi "a traitor" and "a shemale" — comments that have drawn public condemnation.

However, Smith has steadfastly refused to apologize for his remarks. "I'd rather rot in prison than say sorry," he said.

He is now looking at five years in prison for his offenses, according to Jakarta police spokesman Syahar Diantono.

Petrus Selestinus, a Catholic legal expert and coordinator of Indonesia's Democracy Defense Team, said Smith abused his position of influence and freedom to disseminate information by spreading hateful and "uncivilized" words.

"This is like shock therapy for the hardliners," he told ucanews.com on Dec. 7, adding that the government was cracking down in a bid to curb religious intolerance and the concomitant persecution of others.

"If they could get away with making such negative [and untrue] comments about the president, just imagine what they could do to ordinary people that have no power," he said.

"The police should not be affected by any kind of pressure or intervention in their duties in any way, from anyone," he added.

Mohamad Guntur Romli is a spokesman for the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which supports Widodo. He said Smith's statements were outrageous. "It is unfortunate to hear such statements coming from the mouth of a religious leader," he said.

Meanwhile, Novel Bamukmin from the Islamic Defenders Front said Smith will fight the case and that he has "50 lawyers" at his disposal.

He accused the police of being pro-government due to the unusually fast speed with which this case was processed, especially compared to other, more high-profile cases that are still languishing.

One example of this would be the case involving Victor Laiskodat, a former legislator with the National Democratic Party (NasDem), part of the government coalition, who is now the governor of East Nusa Tenggara.

Laiskodat was accused of blasphemy after a speech in 2017 went viral in social media, where he called on constituents to not elect candidates from "pro-extremist and pro-caliphate" parties.

"We ask the police to be as fair as possible," Bamukmin said.

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