A court in East Jakarta convicted and sentenced three leaders of a banned Indonesian spiritual movement on blasphemy charges Tuesday, handing them prison terms ranging from three to five years.
A three-judge panel acquitted the three defendants of treason charges, but found the leaders of the movement known as Gerakan Fajar Nusantara (Gafatar) – which some religious leaders in predominantly Muslim Indonesia have branded as “heretical” – guilty of promoting practices that deviate from Islam.
The panel at the East Jakarta District Court sentenced Gafatar’s founder and spiritual leader, Ahmad Musadeq, 71, to a five-year term along with the group’s vice president, Mahful Muis Tumanurung, 41. Defendant Andry Cahya, 48, who is Gafatar’s president and the son of Musadeq, was sentenced to three years.
“The teachings given by the defendant have proven to offend and tarnish the greatness of Islam,” Chief Judge Muhammad Sirad said in handing down the verdict to Musadeq.
Sirad was referring to one of Gafatar’s teachings that does not require followers to perform salat, prayers Muslims are obliged to perform five times a day, according to the Quran.
“Thus, the charge of intentionally doing blasphemy in public is proven,” Sirad said.
The three Gafatar men had been charged with treason for allegedly promoting the overthrow of Indonesia’s government among their followers, but the chief judge cleared them of this charge, saying that witness testimony had not sustained this accusation.
Prosecutors had asked for the judges to sentence both Musadeq and Mahful to 12 years in prison for blasphemy, and had requested a 10-year sentence for Andry for the same offense.
Judge Sirad noted that the sentence for Andry was shorter than the other two because, compared with Musadeq and Mahful, he had not previously been convicted.
The two other defendants had been jailed in 2008 on blasphemy charges for establishing the Al-Qiyadah Al-Islamiyah movement, which eventually became Gafatar. Musadeq claimed at the time to be a prophet of the movement that blends tenets of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Some Muslim leaders in Indonesia have deemed Gafatar as deviant, and the government banned the group in 2012.
Mahful and Andry did not say a word as they left the courtroom, but they smiled and waved at journalists.
Musadeq told reporters he was weighing an appeal.
“I am thinking about it,” he said.
However, Pratiwi Febry, a lawyer representing the three men, described Tuesday’s ruling and sentencing as unjust and said her clients would appeal.
“This is a killing field for those who are minorities and oppressed,” Pratiwi said.