On August 25 Muhammad Kece, a Christian preacher, was arrested at his friend’s house in Bali for alleged blasphemy against Islam. Among other allegations, the authorities charged him with changing the word “Allah” in the Islamic oath to “Jesus.” He has been detained in a Jakarta detention center. A day later, Yahya Waloni, a Muslim imam, was arrested at his house in Jakarta after allegedly saying in a sermon that the Bible was fake. Waloni is being held in a hospital in Jakarta. Indonesia’s blasphemy law punishes comments that are found to deviate from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism – with up to six years in prison if the crime is published on the internet. It is regularly used for political purposes and largely against vulnerable groups. More than 150 people, mostly from Indonesia’s religious minorities, have been convicted under the blasphemy law since 2004.
The law is most commonly used against people deemed to have criticized Islam. This includes the case of former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2017 and removed from office after a politically motivated smear campaign.
The two recent arrests took place after the Minister of Religious Affairs, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, asked the police “to equally” crack down on people from different religions who commit blasphemy. “There must be fair treatment in all cases, including blasphemy and hate speech,” he said. Ironically, Qoumas himself has been a target of the blasphemy law. In 2018 Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, the Nahdlatul Ulama, demanded the banning of the militant religious group Hizbut Tahrir. Members of the youth wing, which Qoumas then chaired, burned a Hizbut Tahrir flag, which also contains the Muslim oath, prompting protests against Qoumas. This phony evenhandedness is not the answer, nor is the government’s plan to expand the law’s use. Instead, the government should promptly repeal the blasphemy law. But today, the authorities should drop the charges against both preachers and release them.
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