A court in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province on Tuesday sentenced a woman to 18 months after her complaint over noise from a mosque triggered arson attacks on Buddhist temples in 2016.
Meiliana, a 44-year-old Buddhist of Chinese descent who goes by only one name, was found guilty by judges at Medan District Court of showing hostility to religion, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison under Indonesian law.
“[The defendant] is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubts of having publicly and deliberately expressed a feeling or carried out acts of hostility, abuse or blasphemy toward a religion in Indonesia,” chief judge Wahyu Prasetyo Wibowo said.
Meiliana wept after the verdict was read. Her lawyer Ranto Sibarani said she would appeal.
In 2016, Meiliana came to a neighbor in Tanjung Balai city and complained that the noise from calls to prayers blasted through mosque loudspeakers was “hurting her ears” and asked that the volume be turned down.
“Your mosque is deafening. I have no peace every day,” she said, according to the indictment.
Meliana has denied saying those words.
A mosque official later visited Meliana and asked her if she had made a request.
Meliana’s husband later apologized for his wife’s action but rumors soon spread among locals and on social media that she had asked the mosque to stop azan, or calls to prayers.
On July 29, 2016, locals threw rocks at Meiliana’s house.
A riot then spread across the town, with mobs burning temples and other buildings owned by the local ethnic Chinese.
The North Sumatran branch of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa in January 2017 that Meiliana’s words were blasphemous.
At least eight rioters have been sentenced to jail terms of between one and two months in prison.
But pressure from Muslim groups mounted on the police who arrested Meiliana in May.
The head of the Islamic Ummah Forum in North Sumatra, Indra Suhari, said the sentence was too lenient.
“We are disappointed,” he said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of Setara Institute, a human rights organization based in Jakarta, said Meiliana did not receive a fair trial.
“It’s similar to the Ahok case. Most blasphemy cases result from a combination of pressure from the public and intolerant groups, and MUI fatwas have been a determining factor,” he said, referring to former Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years for blasphemy for remarks deemed insulting to Islam.
The defendant, her lawyer, judges and prosecutors were subjected to psychological pressure by the presence of members of intolerant groups during the trial, he said.