Indonesia woman irked by mosque noise convicted of blasphemy

Indonesia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion but in recent years blasphemy cases have been filed against those perceived as offending Islam. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2018
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Indonesia woman irked by mosque noise convicted of blasphemy

  • Prosecutors said the 44-year-old defendant violated the criminal code by committing blasphemy against Islam
  • The maximum sentence for blasphemy is two years

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 two years.
Indonesia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion but in recent years blasphemy cases have been filed against those perceived as offending Islam. The overwhelming majority end with guilty verdicts.
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 offense.


Black Tunisians push for equality, in face of racism

Tunisian men walk past shops on the resort island of Djerba on October 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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Black Tunisians push for equality, in face of racism

  • On October 9, Tunisia’s parliament adopted a landmark law penalizing the use of racist words, the incitement of hatred and discrimination
  • “The worst thing is, it’s a cemetery next to a mosque where the imams call for equality and respect,” Douiri said

DJERBA, Tunisia: Tunisian Nadia Borji says she wants to be considered as equal but fears she will end up buried in her town’s so-called “slaves” cemetery — because she is black.
Black Tunisians, including some descended from slaves, make up a minority that is barely visible in the north African country.
Many hope for greater equality after a law was passed last month criminalizing all forms of racism.
“This term ‘slave’ disturbs me enormously. It shouldn’t still exist!” protested Borji, who came to her mother’s grave to read a prayer.
Black residents still bury their dead in a poorly maintained piece of land, full of earthen tombs covered with parched plants near Houmt Souk, on the island of Djerba.
Two other cemeteries lie a stone’s throw away — reserved for people with light skin.
“We are accustomed to knowing that it is abnormal to suffer such discrimination,” said 46-year-old Borji.
Her cousin Dorra Douiri directed her anger toward a “racist and very painful” societal schism.
“The worst thing is, it’s a cemetery next to a mosque where the imams call for equality and respect,” Douiri said.
The head of a municipal district in Houmt Souk acknowledged that cemeteries should not be separated.
“Cemeteries for slaves and cemeteries for free people — it is a phenomenon that exists and must be addressed,” said Mourad Missaoui.
Unlike the major cities of Tunis and Sfax, Djerba residents bury their dead without requiring permission from the council.
This means their burial place can still be decided by social status and even their skin color, he told AFP.

Slavery was formally abolished in Tunis and in part of what forms modern day Tunisia in 1846.
On October 9, Tunisia’s parliament adopted a landmark law penalizing the use of racist words, the incitement of hatred and discrimination.
These crimes are now punishable by three years in prison and a 5,000 euro (5,600 dollar fine).
Racism remains “well anchored in the minds of many Tunisians,” said Saadia Mosbah, president of M’nemty, an association that defends minorities.
Last month’s law is an acknowledgement by the state that racism persists — but the law must now be applied, he added.
“The real work starts now,” he said.
But there could be a long battle ahead.
“There is no harmony between legal texts and what happens” in reality, said municipal leader Missaoui.
Town halls on Djerba even use a designation widely perceived as being highly racist on slave descendants’ birth certificates.
The word in question is “atig” — a prefix followed by the name of the master who granted freedom to the ancestors of the certificate holder.
In the absence of popular pressure to withdraw the designation — or a directive from the government — the word and “its racist connotations” will continue to be applied by town halls, said Missaoui.

In the city of Medenine and the large village of Gosba, around 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Djerba, most people are black and many of them complain of racism.
“Our village is extremely marginalized, because of the color of our skin,” decried 27-year-old Mohamed, as he played cards on the floor of shop.
“We have no cafes, no cultural houses, no proper buildings — absolutely nothing,” he complained. “There is only contempt.”
“It is not this law that will protect the region. It requires above all investment... for residents, who are considered second class Tunisians,” he said.
In Gosba, marriage between a black and white Tunisian is socially rejected.
“You can be the most handsome and rich man, (but) you’ll always be black and they will never accept you marrying a white woman,” said 61-year-old grocer Ali Koudi.