A daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, apologized Wednesday for reading a poem last week that was deemed blasphemous by Muslim groups, which reported her to police.
Sukmawati Soekarnoputri read her poem “Ibu Indonesia” (Mother Indonesia) on Thursday as part of the 2018 Indonesian Fashion Week during a celebration marking the 29-year career of Anne Avantie, famous for her traditional blouse designs.
“From the bottom of my heart, I apologize to Indonesian Muslims, especially to those who feel offended and objected to the poem ‘Mother Indonesia’,” Sukmawati said while tearing up during a news conference in Jakarta.
Her poem read: “I don’t know sharia (Islamic law), but I know the Konde (traditional bun) of Mother Indonesia is very beautiful, more beautiful than your niqab (a full face veil worn by some Muslim women). I don’t know sharia, but I know Mother Indonesia’s ballad, it’s so very elegant. More melodious than your azan (Islamic call to prayer).”
Middle Eastern-style Muslim garb has become much more common in Indonesia in recent years, and the poem expresses a nationalistic wistfulness for traditional Indonesian styles.
Despite her apology, Muslim groups announced plans to hold a mass protest “Defend Islam Action” on Friday at the National Police headquarters. In addition, an online petition at change.org demanding action against her for blasphemy received thousands of signatures.
Muslim groups held similar themed protests against former Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, in 2016 and 2017 after an edited video made it appear like he said that the Quran deceived people. Ahok was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison.
Under Indonesia’s criminal code, blasphemy is punishable by up to five years in prison.
No intention of insulting Islam
Sukmawati said the poem represented her personal view as an artist.
“The fashion show’s theme was ‘Cultural Identity.’ The poem was in accordance with the theme,” Sukmawati said.
The younger sister of Megawati Soekarnoputri, leader of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ruling party, Sukmawati said she had no intention of insulting Islam.
“I am a Muslim who is grateful and proud of my Islamic identity, a daughter of the founding father, Bung Karno, who was well-known as a Muhammadiyah figure and received an honor from Nahdlatul Ulama,” she said referring to the two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia.
Criminal reports filed
Persaudaraan Alumni (PA) 212, an umbrella group of Islamic hardline organizations behind the mass protests against Ahok, reported Sukmawati to police on Wednesday.
“I personally have no problem. The problem is not that I have been insulted, but my religion, Islam,” PA representative Dedi Suhardadi said.
On Tuesday, lawyer Denny Andrian Kusdayat filed a similar blasphemy complaint with Jakarta Metro Police.
“What she has conveyed through her poem is worse than Ahok. And this really offends Muslims,” he told BenarNews.
Following Sukmawati’s apology, Denny said he had not withdrawn his police complaint.
“I will consult with ulemas. After that I will make my decision,” he said.
Politician Amron Asyhari and the East Java chapter of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, filed complaints against Sukmawati.
Police spokesman Inspector Gen. Setyo Wasisto said law-enforcement agencies will respond to the complaints.
“Our responsibility is to carry out an investigation. We have to first gather evidence and then follow up,” Setyo told reports at police national headquarters.
Rights group responds
Hendardi, a representative of the Jakarta-based human rights group Setara Institute, said the poem had nothing to do with blasphemy. He called it an artistic expression that had a sufficient degree of factual truth.
“On the complaint that has been submitted, let the police process proceed without pressure from political motives,” he said in a written statement, adding the issue could spawn conflict in the coming elections.