Indonesian woman loses Supreme Court appeal over blasphemy conviction

The Great Mosque of Medan Credit By Uskarp Shutterstock The Great Mosque of Medan. | Uskarp/Shutterstock.

Indonesia's Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a Buddhist woman who was convicted of blasphemy for complaining about the volume of a local mosque's call to worship.

The court's ruling was made March 27, and posted to its website April 8.

The woman, Meliana, is of Chinese descent and lives in Tanjung Balai, about 110 miles southeast of Medan. She said in 2016 that an adhan was "too loud" and hurt her ears, according to The Jakarta Post. She made the comment in a private conversation to her neighbor, Kasini, but her words were subsequently twisted to seem like an objection to the adhan itself and spread on social media.

Anti-Chinese violence flared in Tanjung Balai after Meliana's comments were shared on social media, with her property and several Buddhist temples being set aflame.

She was convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced in August 2018 to 18 months in prison. She had lost an appeal with the North Sumatra High Court before turning to the Supreme Court.

Meliana's lawyer, Ranto Sibarani, said he was surprised her conviction was upheld because he considered there wasn't enough evidence of blasphemy.

"The evidence was only a statement signed by residents. It's strange that a statement signed by other people could be used as evidence of religious blasphemy," Sibarani told The Jakarta Post. He said the statement letter used as evidence in the court was written six months after the incident.

He told Al Jazeera: "There is no evidence that she committed blasphemy. This hoax spread in the course of a week and ruined a woman's life in the process. Today's decision is very dangerous because in the future it means that people can spread false information which will lead to wrongful convictions under the blasphemy law."

Sibarani intends to file a judicial review of the case.

Two prominent Islamic organizations in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have reportedly criticized Meliana's conviction, saying a complaint over the volume of adhans should not be considered blasphemy.

Meliana was charged with blasphemy only after the local chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council issued an opinion saying she had insulted Islam. The Islamic Defenders Front has supported her conviction.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in population. Alongside the 87 percent of its population who are Muslim, 10 percent of the population is Christian, and 2 percent are Hindu. Discrimination and attacks on religious minorities occur not infrequently

The constitution of the country officially invokes "belief in the One and Only God" and guarantees religious freedom, but strict blasphemy laws embedded in its criminal code have been criticized by national and international human rights groups. Almost all blasphemy cases in Indonesia have ended in convictions.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and the former governor of Jakarta, completed a two-year sentence in January on a conviction of insulting the Quran.

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