An Indonesian newspaper editor could face up to five years in prison for blasphemy because of a political cartoon criticizing ISIS that his newspaper published in July. Some Indonesian fundamentalists complained that a modified ISIS flag bearing a pirate-style skull and crossbones along with phrases praising Allah and Mohamed was offensive to Muslims. Blasphemy charges have proceeded despite the newspaper’s apology and retraction printed shortly after the cartoon ran.
The panel by cartoonist Stephff in the Jakarta Post was intended to criticize ISIS’ misuse of Islam and its symbols, but a group called the Jakarta Preachers’ Corps made a formal complaint to authorities under the country’s strict blasphemy laws. Stephff himself does not live in Indonesia, so police turned their sights on the Post’s editor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat. He was officially named a suspect in the blasphemy case earlier this month, five months after the cartoon was printed.
In response to the charges, Suryodiningrat said it should be obvious that the cartoon and the accompanying reportage was not meant to apply to all Muslims: “What we produced was a journalistic piece that criticised the ISIS movement, which has carried out violence in the name of religion.”
After Suryodiningrat was named a suspect, mixed reports indicated that the police may be softening their stance and could be willing to treat the cartoon’s publication as an ethics violation rather than a criminal offense. Nevertheless, human rights groups including Amnesty International and Cartoonists Rights Network International are calling on newly elected Indonesian President Joko Widodo to repeal the blasphemy laws altogether. For those who would like to speak up on behalf of Suryodiningrat and freedom of expression in Indonesia, CRNI provides letter-writing tips and contact information for Widodo as well as the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Law and Human Rights.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.