High court denies appeal against prison sentence by Indonesian woman in mosque loudspeaker blasphemy case

Meliana during her blasphemy trial. Photo: Change.org
Meliana during her blasphemy trial. Photo: Change.org

The Medan High Court yesterday upheld the much-criticized 18-month prison sentence previously given by the Medan District Court to Meiliana, a resident of Tanjungbalai in North Sumatra, for complaining about the volume of the call to prayer from her neighborhood mosque’s loudspeaker.

The High Court’s panel of judges, led by Judge Daliun Salian, denied Meiliana and her legal counsel’s appeal, echoing the District Court’s ruling that the defendant deliberately caused religious conflict with her actions, thus constituting blasphemy under Article 156A of the KUHP (Criminal Code).

“Today, a decision has been reached regarding the convict Meiliana, which on the first level has already been decided by the Medan District Court,” Medan High Court Spokesman Adi Sutrisno told reporters yesterday, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Meiliana’s lawyer, Josua Rumahorbo, says his client has not decided whether or not they will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which would be their last chance for a successful appeal.

In July 2016, rioters in the city of Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, attacked and burned several Buddhist temples. The riot was allegedly triggered by a complaint by the 44-year-old Meiliana, a Chinese-Indonesian, who said that the mosque speaker in front of her house was too loud.

Her sentence drew outrage from many in Indonesia, especially considering those responsible for the violent riots received far more lenient punishments. Even religious officials and politicians have joined the chorus of criticisms against this particular application of the blasphemy law.

The Medan District Court sentenced Meiliana to 18 months in prison in August of this year. Soon after, the head judge in her trial was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on suspicion of bribery, though those charges were not directly related to Meiliana’s case.

Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono recently wrote about the heartbreaking human costs of Indonesia’s controversial blasphemy law in relation to Meiliana and her family, such as the loss of their salted fish shop, having to abandon their home, and Meiliana’s son being forced to leave university.

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