MEDAN, Indonesia – An Indonesian court has sentenced a woman who complained about a noisy mosque to 18 months in prison for blasphemy.
The ethnic Chinese woman, Meiliana, burst into tears as presiding Judge Wahyu Prasetyo Wibowo announced the sentence Tuesday. She was taken from the court in handcuffs.
Prosecutors said the 44-year-old defendant violated the criminal code by committing blasphemy against Islam, the dominant faith in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Mobs burned and ransacked at least 14 Buddhist temples throughout Tanjung Balai, a port town on Sumatra, in a July 2016 riot following reports of Meiliana’s complaint about a mosque’s noisy loudspeakers.
The woman’s lawyer, Ranto Sibarani, said the sentence would be appealed. A conservative group, Islamic Community Forum, said Meilana’s sentence was too light.
The maximum sentence for blasphemy is five years.
Indonesia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but in recent years blasphemy cases have been filed against people perceived as offending Islam in a possible sign of a more conservative brand of the religion gaining ground in Indonesia. The overwhelming majority of cases end with guilty verdicts.
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.
Last year, the minority Christian and ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta, the capital, was convicted of blasphemy and imprisoned for two years after massive street protests over comments seized upon by his political opponents.
Judges imposed the sentence despite prosecutors downgrading the blasphemy charge to a lesser offence.