Indonesia’s main Muslim group criticizes blasphemy sentence

The ethnic Chinese woman, Meiliana, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Tuesday by a court in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province. (Antara Foto/Reuters)
Updated 23 August 2018

Indonesia’s main Muslim group criticizes blasphemy sentence

  • Officials from Nahdlatul Ulama, which claims 60 million members, said the woman’s complaint about mosque loudspeakers doesn’t constitute blasphemy under Indonesian law
  • The country’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but religious minorities are frequently the target of blasphemy prosecutions

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization has criticized the blasphemy conviction and imprisonment of a Buddhist woman who complained that the call to prayer from her neighborhood mosque was too loud.
Officials from Nahdlatul Ulama, which claims 60 million members, said Thursday the woman’s complaint about mosque loudspeakers doesn’t constitute blasphemy under Indonesian law.
The ethnic Chinese woman, Meiliana, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Tuesday by a court in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, providing new fuel to concerns that an intolerant brand of Islam is gaining ground in Indonesia.
The country’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but religious minorities are frequently the target of blasphemy prosecutions. The overwhelming majority of cases end with guilty verdicts.
Word of the woman’s original comments in July 2016 sparked a riot in Tanjung Bali, a port town on Sumatra. Mobs burned and ransacked at least 14 Buddhist temples in the town.
“We believe that Meiliana did not commit blasphemy,” Robikin Emhas, a deputy chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, told The Associated Press.
He said a complaint about a speaker’s volume for the five-times-a-day call to prayer does not contain any element of hatred against a religion.
“I regret this matter has been brought to the court, it actually should be settled in a peaceful way,” Emhas said.
Prosecutors had accused the 44-year-old defendant of violating the criminal code by committing blasphemy against Islam, the dominant faith in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. About 85 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, but Protestants, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists are each numerically significant minorities.
Another prominent Nahdlatul Ulama official, Rumadi Ahmad, who was an expert witness at Meiliana’s trial, said in a Facebook post that his testimony was ignored.
“Meiliana, forgive me,” he wrote. “You have become a sacrifice, just ahead of the Islamic holiday Eid Al-Adha.”
He said under Islamic law the call to prayer itself is not part of highest religious teachings that must be followed so does not fall under the blasphemy law. The woman’s complaint in conversation with a few people also could not be considered a blasphemous public advocacy against a religion, Ahmad said.
Since 2004, 147 people have been imprisoned under blasphemy or related laws, according to monitoring by Human Rights Watch. The number of cases has slowed since 2014 under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration.
Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Muslim organization, said the legal process should be respected but also called for tolerance.
“People should understand that the call to prayer, or “azan,” must be heard by the congregation. But how loud the sound is needs to be a dialogue between communities,” chairman Haedar Nashir said in a statement.


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.