Mentally ill Catholic woman escapes Indonesian jail term

Court finds Suzethe Margaret guilty of blasphemy for mosque invasion but says she cannot be held criminally liable
Mentally ill Catholic woman escapes Indonesian jail term

Suzethe Margaret (right) poses for a photo with her lawyer, Alfonsus Atu Kota. (Photo courtesy of Alfonsus Atu Kota)

A court in Indonesia’s West Java province has found a schizophrenic Catholic woman guilty of committing blasphemy but spared her a prison sentence because of her psychiatric condition.

Judges at the Cibinong District Court in Bogor city said that although 52-year-old Suzethe Margaret had committed an act of blasphemy, she should not be jailed.

“The defendant suffers from serious mental illness and therefore cannot be held criminally liable. The defendant is freed from all charges,” Judge  Indra Meinantha Vidi said.

Prosecutors had sought an eight-month jail term for Margaret, who sparked anger in June last year when she stormed into a mosque with a dog, while still wearing shoes, in search of her husband. She could have been jailed for five years.

A video of the incident went viral on social media and sparked anger among Muslims, who regard dogs as impure and who are strict about removing shoes before entering mosques.

Margaret’s lawyer, Alfonsus Atu Kota, said the ruling was the right result.

“The court paid serious attention to our considerations. She violated the law but there were reasons why they needed to forgive her,” he told UCA News. “Today, the court has shown the Indonesian people that there is justice. People who are persecuted are still protected by the state.” 

He also claimed the case was brought to court because of public pressure. “Investigators knew she suffers from acute schizophrenia. Medical examinations in a police hospital proved it,” he said.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the case should not have reached court, citing Article 44 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code that stipulates that a person who commits a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held criminally liable.

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