A team of legal experts says judges’ verdict was based on allegations, not evidence, in the test case for Indonesia’s Shia community
Tajul Muluk did not receive a fair trial, according to legal experts who reviewed the case of the Shia cleric from Sampang, Madura currently serving a two-year sentence for blasphemy.
The Sampang District Court unfairly discarded defence witness testimony, failed to provide a certified translator for witnesses who spoke only Madurese, and ruled based on unproven allegations, according to findings presented at a press conference in Jakarta on September 17th.
The five-member team that reviewed the trial consisted of professors from Gadjah Madah University (UGM) and Indonesia Islamic University (UII) in Yogyakarta, and a former judge.
“There is no justice for the defendant. The legal procedure was not used properly,” said UGM professor Zahru Arqom, urging the Supreme Court and Judicial Commission to conduct their own review of the case.
“We saw several things related with the lack of criminal procedure. Some of the witnesses who were interrogated by the investigators actually cannot speak Indonesian. But the case report was written in Indonesian,” said Muhammad Arif Setiawan, a legal expert from UII.
“It needs to be understood that the investigation report is usually rendered in an understandable language, in this case Madura language, because the report must be signed by the witnesses,” he said.
On July 12th, the Sampang District Court sentenced Tajul Muluk to two years in prison for deviant religious teachings and causing public anxiety, under article 156a of the Criminal Code on blasphemy and article 335 on unpleasant conduct.
On September 21st, an East Java High Court judge increased the sentence to four years, according to media reports confirmed by Khabar Southeast Asia.
Lack of evidence
Tajul Muluk was arrested and prosecuted after a mob attacked the Sampang Shia community in December 2011. His house, pesantren and place of worship were also burned down.
His conviction in July was based on evidence from witnesses who testified that he taught an unauthentic Qur’an, instructed his followers to pray three times a day instead of five, and said pilgrimage to Mecca is not obligatory, which is contrary to most Islamic schools of thought.
In August, Abdullah Beik, chairman of Ahlul Bait Indonesia (ABI), an organisation which has been advocating for Shia Muslims in Indonesia, told Khabar that Tajul would appeal his conviction.
“The Sampang District Court decision is actually unfair because the judge did not have enough legal evidence such as a video or audio to prove that Tajul taught an unauthentic Qur’an,” he said.
The blasphemy charge had no legal foundation other than a decree issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) of Madura. “However, central MUI in Jakarta never declared Shia as deviant,” he said.
Tajul’s case has raised concerns among the Shia community, he noted. Followers now fear criminal prosecution in addition to attacks.
On August 26th, Tajul’s village was attacked again by local Sunni Muslims. Two men were killed, dozens were injured and 37 Shia homes were burned to the ground.
“The court should be the institution to guarantee Tajul legal protection. Those who attacked him and his community should be facing legal processes,” Ifdhal Kasim, chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) told the September 17th press conference.
The only person arrested in the wake of the December violence was Tajul Muluk. However, police arrested five suspects from the incident in late August, and seek four more.