Authorities in Indonesia jailed a woman for 18 months on Wednesday after complaining that a nearby mosque was “too loud” and “hurt” her ears.
The 44-year-old Buddhist woman, identified only as Meiliana, was found guilty on Tuesday of violating the country’s blasphemy law after she complained about how the Islamic call to prayer from her local mosque in the city of Medan hurt her ears. Following her verdict, she burst into tears before being taken away in handcuffs.
“[We] declare that the defendant is legally and compellingly proven guilty of committing blasphemy against a certain religion that is professed in Indonesia,” said presiding Judge Wahyu Prasetyo Wibowo on delivering the verdict. “[We] sentenced the woman to one and a half years in prison.”
Following her remarks in 2016, around a dozen Islamic fundamentalists burned and ransacked least 14 Buddhist temples in Tanjung Balai on the island of Sumatra, forcing many ethnic Chinese to flee the area.
Meiliana’s lawyer, Rantau Sibarani, said there was no clear evidence of blasphemy and his client would appeal the decision.
“This case seems to be very forced. This is only to fulfill the will of the people,” he said. “We will appeal the verdict because the judges could not prove that our client has committed blasphemy.”
Despite being officially pluralist, Indonesia is home to 225 million Muslims, making it the largest Islamic country in the world.
Although freedom of speech is supposedly guaranteed by law, the case will fuel further fears about Indonesia’s increasingly stringent blasphemy laws, with a rapidly growing trend towards strict Islamic interpretation and the violation of other people’s religious freedoms. In a case that triggered international concern last year, Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by the nickname “Ahok,” was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to two years in jail for warning that some politicians misinterpreted the Quran to threaten Muslims not to vote for Christians.
Human rights groups criticized the sentence as an example of the country’s increasingly repressive legal system. Indonesia’s Islamic Community Forum argued the sentence was too lenient despite it being the maximum legal amount he could be imprisoned for the crime.
“This ludicrous decision is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression,” Amnesty’s executive director for Indonesia, Usman Hamid, said in a statement. “Sentencing someone to 18 months in prison for something so trivial is a stark illustration of the increasingly arbitrary and repressive application of the blasphemy law in the country.”
Mosque noise pollution has long been a problem across Indonesia. A 2015 review conducted by Vice President Jusuf Kalla into noise pollution from the country’s 800,00 mosques urged places of worship to turn down their speaker systems and avoid broadcasting sermons to the local population.