Revoke Abusive Law, Drop Pending Cases
By Andreas Harsono
Human Rights Watch
Indonesian police last week senselessly detained and charged a woman with a mental health condition with blasphemy after she entered a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, wearing shoes and accompanied by her dog.
A video of the June 30 incident, which has since gone viral, shows the 52-year-old Catholic woman agitated and wrongly claiming that the mosque was preparing to marry her husband to another woman.
Her behavior prompted angry responses from the worshippers. She became aggressive, reportedly hitting a mosque guard when he asked her to leave.
The woman is known to have lived with paranoid schizophrenia since 2013, and a psychiatric examination at a police hospital in Jakarta confirmed her condition.
Bogor police charged her with blasphemy, presumably because Islamic rules consider canine saliva to be unclean and visitors should take off their shoes inside the mosque. The district court will decide whether she should be tried or not. She has been detained ever since the incident. The police submitted her case to the public prosecution office on July 10.
Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law punishes deviations from the central tenets of the country’s six officially recognized religions with up to five years in prison. The law was only used eight times in its first four decades but convictions rose to 125 in the decade during the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono from 2004 to 2014. More than 30 people have been convicted of blasphemy since President Joko Widodo took office in 2014.
While the woman’s behavior in the mosque was inappropriate, charging her with the criminal offense of blasphemy for actions that appear directly related to her mental health condition show how the law is so easily abused. Worryingly, Indonesia’s Islamist groups are increasing using blasphemy cases to mobilize and agitate the country’s Muslim majority. The government should revoke the blasphemy law and drop all pending blasphemy cases, including this latest one, which has needlessly left a vulnerable person to face prison time.