Southeast Asia
East Timor
Papua New Guinea
US international sexual policies
Sex crimes

Counselors jail for insulting Islam


ID Nugroho, The Jakarta Post, Probolinggo

Seven former counselors at a drug and cancer rehabilitation center in Probolinggo were sentenced on Thursday to jail terms of between three and five years for the crime of insulting Islam, a clear sign that the East Java judiciary is clamping down on alternative Islamic thought despite the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

The verdict at the Probolinggo District Court came after the Malang District Court sentenced a Muslim preacher last month to two years in jail for introducing an Indonesian translation of the Arabic sholat prayer.

At the Probolinggo trial, the panel of judges found that the seven counselors, through their teachings at the Cahaya Alam Cancer and Drug Addiction Healing Foundation, had introduced teachings and practices that contravened key precepts of Islam. These included introducing notions of "free sex" and a belief that recognized Satan as a creature who served God. The main evidence behind the allegations was a book of guidelines, which the clinic had circulated among patients.

The judges handed down six five-year jail terms to the six male counselors, including foundation chairman Ardi Husen, while the only woman in the group, Mufidah, received three years.

The clinic, which was established in 1991, had treated thousands of people suffering from cancer and drug addiction.

Police began to investigate the clinic's alternative healing activities in May, after the local Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict calling the foundation's teachings heretical. The council had earlier obtained one of the foundation's books from a former patient.

Hundreds of people raided the group's headquarters in Karangpilang shortly after the edict was issued, vandalizing the interior and driving out patients waiting to be treated at the clinic.

Police later arrested the counselors for causing a disturbance after preventing the crowd from attacking them. They were later charged with the crime of insulting Islam.

Lawyers for the defense had argued the counselors should never have been brought to court, calling the prosecution excessive and politically motivated; a response to MUI's edict.

Neither should the defendants have been put on trial for publishing a book that had never been officially banned by the government, they said.

The defense team slammed groups like MUI, which it said were taking on the role of a moral police; trying to punish the counselors for their beliefs; something they had no power to do under Indonesian law.

Violence against groups seen by religious fundamentalists to be at odds with Islam has increased over recent months, despite the country's Constitution guaranteeing the right of people to freely practice their beliefs.

The Probolinggo trial comes after a group of Muslim hard-liners earlier this week attacked property belonging to members of the Ahmadiyah religious sect in Cianjur, West Java. That sect, an offshoot of Islam, believes in another prophet after Muhammad.

Police arrested 48 people and named 12 suspects for destroying property belonging to Ahmadiyah members.