CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Can only minorities be blasphemous?

JAKARTA (SE): The Indonesian Catholic Students Association has called on police in Jakarta to process a complaint it filed against the Islamic cleric, Muhammad Rizieq Syihab.
 
It is maintaining that since the former Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, had been brought to trial, convicted and handed a two-year prison stint on May 9 on charges of blasphemy as a result of a complaint filed only in November last year, the Catholic students’ report, which was filed just one month later and still has not been touched, should be processed as well.
 
UCAN reported that in December 2016, the Students Association reported Syihab and his Islamic Defenders Front for mocking Christianity. In a sermon he had said, “If God gave birth then who would be the midwife?”
 
The chairperson of the association, Angelo Wakeo Kako, said the lack of progress in following up the complaint is due to discrimination against Christians in the Muslim-majority country. “Blasphemy laws cannot be only applied to minority groups,” he said.
 
Saor Siagian, a lawyer for the student association, said that the former governor of Jakarta, popularly known as Ahok, “was named as a suspect only three days after being reported, while it has been five months since Syihab’s case was registered and there has been no developments.”
 
Father Yohanes Kristoforus Tara, from the Franciscan Commission of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, said the complaint against Syihab was not an attempt at retaliation.
 
“This is about the commitment of the state to treat everyone equally before the law,” he said, pointing out that Muslims also support the case.
 
In a joint statement, the Movement of Indonesian Islamic Students said it fully supports the Catholic students and condemned Syihab’s statement.
 
Ahok was found guilty of blasphemy following a lengthy trial, which continued right through his unsuccessful bid to be elected as governor of the nation’s capital city for a second term.
 
But it was not only the students who took the sentencing of Ahok as an affront to the nation.
 
An impromptu choir made up of hundreds led a gathering in the singing of the national anthem, Indonesia Raya, and Pancasila Garuda (the national emblem of Indonesia), a song about the principles of acceptance and equality on which the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population was founded.
 
Roughly translated as Unity in Diversity, it was conducted by well-known musician, Addie MS. The catchy tune was sung as a statement that the conviction of Ahok runs against what the Indonesian state should stand for.
 
The Jakarta-based rights group, the Setara Institute, described the verdict as a “trial by mob”, while The Guardian reported that Britain’s Muslim ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik, tweeted a message of support to the beleaguered former governor.
 
Priests and sisters joined hundreds of people at a candlelight vigil organised by a Church group on May 9 outside Cipinang prison in East Jakarta where Ahok was being held, as a sign of moral support.
 
“I came here to support Ahok. We know he was jailed because of outside pressure,” UCAN quoted Divine Word Missionary, Father Fransiskus Funan, the chairperson of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Commission in Ende archdiocese, as saying at the vigil.
 
Divine Providence Sister Laurentina was even more direct, saying straight out that his jailing is a miscarriage of justice.
 
“We have seen the legal proceedings in the case and to me it does not make sense. There seems to be political influence behind all this,” she said.
 
Alarmed at the number of people gathering at the prison in support of the former governor of Jakarta, the authorities moved Ahok to the National Police Mobile Brigade Detention Centre in Depok, West Java.
 
In Hong Kong, the Indonesian community held activities in Victoria Park on May 14, which attracted many of the migrant workers who congregate in the vast recreation area to enjoy their day off.
 
Charles Santiago, the chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said the punishment handed to Ahok is deeply disconcerting, not only for Indonesia, but for the entire ASEAN region.
 
The Malaysian politician described Ahok as a victim of rising extremism and religious identity politics, calling the verdict against him “a triumph for intolerance and an ominous sign for minority rights.”
 
He was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying, “Ahok has become a victim of rising extremism and religious identity politics. But this decision has impacts beyond justice for one individual.”
 
Santiago concluded, saying, “This case demonstrates the need for Indonesia to take steps to address rising religious intolerance and revise its legislation to ensure compliance with international human rights standards, including freedom of thought, expression and belief.”

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