[JURIST] An Indonesian court on Thursday sentenced a Shia cleric to two years in prison on blasphemy charges. Chief Judge Purnomo Amin Tjahjo of the Sampang district court announced the sentence of Tajul Muluk, whose teachings were deemed to have deviated from mainstream Islam [AFP report] resulting in “public anxiety” over Muluk’s pronouncements. According to court witnesses Muluk specifically taught that Muslims should pray three rather than five times a day, that the Koran was no longer an authentic document and that followers need not make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which is considered one of the five pillars of “mainstream” Islam. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned the ruling [press release], calling on the Indonesian government to “immediately drop all charges and release Tajul Muluk, … amend or repeal its blasphemy law and abolish the Islamist board known as Bakor Pakem, which formally sits in the Attorney General’s Office during investigations of alleged religious offenses.” Muluk’s village, a largely Shia community, reportedly has been the target of an ongoing hate campaign [Guardian report] by Islamist militants for years. HRW claims that in December after Sunni militants burned parts of the village and forced approximately 500 Shia residents to flee, Muluk was pressured by police to leave the village. A month later the Sampang chief prosecutor, a member of Bakor Pakem, called on the attorney general’s office to ban Muluk’s teachings and then stated that his Sampang office would press blasphemy charges against Muluk. Muluk was questioned in February and charged with blasphemy in April. HRW further reports that the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Sampang declared they would “supervise” hundreds of Shia to learn Sunni Islam. Muluk has stated he intends to appeal.
An ongoing source of international concern, blasphemy laws [JURIST news archive] are currently in effect in several countries around the world. In March 2011 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] expressed her opposition to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws [JURIST report], urging their repeal after the assassination of Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of Pakistan’s Christian minority and outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In November 2010 Saroop Ijaz, an advocate before the Lahore High Court in Pakistan, wrote that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws should be repealed [JURIST op-ed] if the country is to function as a democracy and address the threat of extremism both at home and abroad. He claims that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Pakistan in 2010, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to which Pakistan is a signatory. That same month HRW called for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws [JURIST report] after a Christian woman was sentenced to death by hanging for insulting the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] during an argument in her village.