An Indonesian court on Wednesday acquitted a Catholic woman who was accused of blasphemy for entering a mosque with her dog while wearing her shoes, ruling that she was mentally ill.
Suzethe Margaret, 52, was arrested in June last year after she entered the mosque with her dog in the Sentul area in Bogor, a regency on the outskirts of Jakarta.
A panel of three judges at the Cibinong District Court said expert testimony proved that Margaret had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
“Considering that the defendant cannot be held accountable, there is no choice but to acquit her,” presiding judge Indra Meinantha Vidi said. “What she has done was part of her mental illness.”
Suzethe was caught on video yelling at mosque caretakers and insisting that her husband was going to be married there to another woman in an Islamic ceremony. The video, which circulated online a month after her arrest, showed Suzethe arguing with worshippers as her dog ran around the mosque.
Indra said Suzethe had hallucinated and heard whispers that her husband was going to get married at the mosque.
The prosecutor sought an eight-month prison sentence for the woman.
Locals who attended the sentencing expressed dissatisfaction at the verdict.
“Remember her name. If you see her on the street, call her crazy,” a courtroom spectator shouted.
Ruslan Suhady, a member of the Al-Munawaroh mosque management, expressed disappointment at the ruling, saying that Suzethe did not appear to be mentally ill.
“If she had been crazy she would have dressed like a tramp, or been naked. She was neatly dressed,” he said.
Suzethe did not say anything as she left the courtroom after the judges ordered her release.
Her lawyer, Alfonsus Atu, called the verdict “fair.”
“From the outset, investigators and prosecutors knew that she was ill,” Alfonsus said.
During the trial, Suzethe’s defense lawyer said she had received therapy for schizophrenia in 2013.
Rights advocates: Law targets minorities
Human rights groups said the current blasphemy law had been used to target members of religious minorities, including Islamic sects deemed deviant, in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, where many citizens consider dogs to be impure.
The blasphemy law was only used in eight cases in its first four decades, but convictions jumped to 125 during the 10-year rule of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono between 2004 and 2014, according to Human Rights Watch.
Another 43 people have been sentenced under the law since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office in 2014, the group said.
Andreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Indonesia, welcomed Suzethe’s acquittal.
“From the humanitarian point of view, it’s good,” he told BenarNews.
“But in countries where democracy is advanced, there’s no law regulating religious blasphemy,” he said.
While Suzethe’s acquittal signified a step toward repealing the blasphemy law, six new provisions on religious blasphemy have been proposed in the revised criminal code bill currently being debated in the House of Representatives, Andreas said.
“This is another step back. More provisions mean more discrimination for minorities,” he said.
In 2018, a court in North Sumatra province sentenced a Buddhist woman of Chinese descent to 18 months in prison for committing blasphemy by complaining about noise coming from a neighborhood mosque.
The woman named Meiliana was found guilty of showing hostility to religion and blasphemy after she complained that the Muslim call to prayer was being played too loudly at the mosque near her house.
Meiliana has denied the charges, but angry locals threw rocks at her house and mobs burned Buddhist temples and other buildings owned by local ethnic Chinese. She was released on parole in May last year.
In 2017, Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced to two years for blasphemy for remarks deemed insulting to Islam. He was released in February.
Conservative Muslim groups held protests against Ahok in 2016 and 2017 after an edited video posted online made it appear that the governor, a Christian, had said that the Quran deceived people.
Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who courted support of conservative Muslim groups despite his liberal credentials.