Jakarta Post chief editor named blasphemy suspect
JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – The chief editor of Indonesia's oldest English-language newspaper has been named a suspect for allegedly violating the country's blasphemy laws when it published an anti-Islamic State (ISIS) editorial cartoon deemed offensive to Islam.
Jakarta Post chief editor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat is facing blasphemy charges under the Criminal Code, a charge that can see him jailed for up to 5 years, according to Jakarta Police spokesperson Rikwanto.
The cartoon, published on July 3 and retracted on July 8 after protests from Islamic groups, depicts an ISIS fighter raising a flag bearing the image of a skull with crossbones and the Arabic phrase "La Ilaaha Illallah" that is considered sacred in Islam.
"The cartoon contained religious symbolism that may have been offensive," the Post wrote in its apology. "The Post regrets the error in judgment, which was in no way meant to malign or be disrespectful of any religion."
But a blasphemy case filed by a group called the Jakarta Muslim Preachers Corps against the paper proceeded, leading to Meidyatama being named a suspect on Thursday.
"We are amazed because the fact is we did not commit a criminal act as accused," Meidyatama said in a statement responding to the police announcement.
"What we produced was a journalistic piece that criticized the ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] movement, which has carried out violence in the name of religion. It means that the ISIS caricature was not blasphemous. We all know that ISIS is an organization that is banned in Indonesia and across almost the entire world."
The Indonesian government – and most moderate and even some hard-line Islamic groups in the country – has banned and issued strong words denouncing the jihadist group. (READ: Indonesia bans ISIS, fights it on various fronts)
Indonesia's Press Council is also backing the Post on the issue, saying "the case was merely related to journalism’s code of ethics and so was not a criminal matter," and should thus be handled by the council.
Press Council member Nezar Patria told Tempo.co they were ready to serve as an expert witness in the investigation.
Rights group Amnesty International last month called on new President Joko Widodo to abolish the blasphemy laws, saying that cases of people being jailed for infringing the regulations had "skyrocketed" under his predecessor.
The editor of Indonesia's version of Playboy magazine, Erwin Arnada, was jailed for two years in 2010 for indecency but walked free in 2011 after the Supreme Court accepted his appeal. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com