Sentenced to 18 months in prison after complaining Muslim call to prayer was too loud
A woman who complained that a mosque near her home was playing the Muslim call to prayer too loudly, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for blasphemy.
44-year-old Buddhist Meiliana, an ethnic Chinese woman, was jailed by the Indonesian court after she was accused of “insulting Islam.”
She had complained that the Muslim call to prayer, which is repeated five times a day, was being played too loudly at the mosque near her house in North Sumatra.
Meiliana burst into tears as the presiding judge, Wahyu Prasetyo Wibowo read out her sentence to the court before she was taken away in handcuffs.
According to Independent, prosecutors alleged she had violated the country’s criminal code by committing blasphemy against Islam, the dominant faith in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Recent years have seen a rise in conservative and hardline interpretations of Islam, prompting fears the secular nation’s long-standing reputation for tolerance and diversity was being eroded.
“She had said something that insulted religion, in this case, Islam,” said Jamaluddin, a spokesman of the Medan district court, adding the defendant had “showed remorse and apologized.”
Political activists have warned the country’s stringent blasphemy laws are being used to bully minorities and violate religious freedoms.
In July 2016, mobs burned and ransacked at least 14 Buddhist temples throughout Tanjung Balai, a port town on Sumatra, following reports of Meiliana’s complaint about a mosque’s noisy loudspeakers.
Her lawyer, Ranto Sibarani, said they would appeal the verdict.
“We will appeal the verdict because the judges could not prove that our client has committed blasphemy,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Responding to the sentencing, Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director, said: “Making a complaint about noise is not a criminal offense.
“This ludicrous decision is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression.
“Sentencing someone to 18 months in prison for something so trivial is a stark illustration of the increasingly arbitrary and repressive application of the blasphemy law in the country.
“The higher court in North Sumatra must reverse this injustice by quashing Meiliana’s sentence and ensuring her immediate and unconditional release.”
A conservative group, Islamic Community Forum, said Meilana’s sentence was too light.
The maximum sentence for blasphemy is five years.
Last year, the former ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta was tried and jailed for blasphemy after several Muslim groups accused him of insulting Islam when he said his political rivals were using the Quran to deceive voters.
The ruling was widely condemned and believed to be politically motivated.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also lost his re-election bid because of the accusations.
There are hundreds of thousands of mosques across the vast archipelago and most use loudspeakers to play the “azan” or call to prayer, which lasts a few minutes.
But many also play lengthy versions of prayers or sermons lasting over 30 minutes, which has been deemed unnecessary by the Indonesian Mosque Council.
Indonesia’s vice president Jusuf Kalla, who is also a member of the Council, formed a team in 2015 to review mosques’ use of loudspeakers and regulate their use and volume.
He has previously called on mosques to use their public address systems “wisely.”