Due to the country’s increasingly conservative political atmosphere, officials in Muslim-majority Indonesia can rarely go wrong by pushing for more religious studies and requirements. But a warden in South Sulawesi recently got fired after his policy to require Muslim prisoners to recite the Quran was rather poorly received, leading to a riot involving hundreds of inmates.
The riot occurred on Saturday at the Polewali Mandar Class IIB Prison in the Polewali Mandar regency of South Sulawesi. As reported by Kompas, the enraged prisoners damaged the penitentiary’s fencing and glass windows before dozens of police officers from the local precinct helped quell the riot.
The prison’s warden, Haryoto, admitted to the media that the riot had been sparked by a policy he had implemented since the start of his tenure requiring that Muslim inmates be able to read the Quran as a requirement for parole.
“An inmate with the initial O did not receive parole because he was not yet able to read the Quran, while another prisoner with the initial R was released because the person concerned was considered to have fulfilled the requirements. Well, that is what triggered the anger that allegedly provoked the other prisoners,” Haryoto said on Saturday as quoted by Kompas.
Haryoto then defended his Quranic reading requirement, arguing that it is an important aspect of socializing prisoners to re-enter the community after they have been released.
However, Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly, who oversees the country’s hugely overburdened prison system, did not agree with Haryoto and on Monday officially relieved the warden of his position for overstepping his bounds by implementing the Quranic reading requirement.
“Yes, that person has already been withdrawn to the Regional Office. The goal [of his policy] was good, but he made it a requirement that exceeded the law,” Yasonna told reporters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta yesterday as quoted by Detik.
Despite setting off a riot, Al Muzzammil Yusuf, a member of parliament from the conservative Islam-based PKS party, also defended the policy, saying it was a good way to push inmates to study the holy book, but conceded that making it a requirement for parole was likely to cause controversy over the role of religion in the prison system.
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