By Andreas Harsono
Human Rights Watch
An Indonesian woman with a psychosocial disability faces up to five years in prison for an altercation at a mosque, the latest victim of Indonesia’s toxic “blasphemy” law.
This week, witnesses testified in court that defendant Suzethe Margaret, a Christian woman living in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, brought a small dog into a neighborhood mosque, looking for her husband. Margaret accused the mosque of converting him to Islam to marry another woman. She was wearing her shoes and kicked a mosque guard when asked to leave.
Judges ordered the trial closed to the public because the defendant has a psychosocial disability. Margaret has paranoid schizophrenia, according to a psychiatric examination at two hospitals in Jakarta in 2013.
Indonesia’s criminal code article 44 states that a person who commits a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held criminally liable. But the law allows for that individual to “be placed in a lunatic asylum” for up to one year. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report documented a range of abuses in psychiatric hospitals in Indonesia, including involuntary treatment, seclusion, and high risk of sexual harassment and violence.
Margaret is charged with committing blasphemy against Islam. Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council, said Margaret’s act of “bringing a dog into a mosque was obviously blasphemous.
Margaret is one of several people facing blasphemy charges. In March, a Serang court sentenced Aisyah Tusalamah – who believes herself to be a reincarnation of a mythological “Queen of the South Sea” and has a perceived mental health condition – to five months in prison for posting an allegedly blasphemous video. In July, police charged Eka Trisusanti Toding, a teacher in Palopo, South Sulawesi, also with psychological record, with blasphemy after posting allegedly blasphemous comments on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is revising its criminal code to expand the 1965 blasphemy law from one to six articles. This would include increasing “the elements of the crime” to include defaming religious artifacts, making noise near a house of worship, persuading someone to be an atheist, and defaming a cleric while in service.
These cases show how Indonesia’s blasphemy law is easily abused. The government should revoke the law instead of expanding it and drop the cases against those charged.