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Convicted Shiite cleric:
I am not an infidel

Shiite cleric Tajul Muluk (left).  (Tempo/arrahmah)
Shiite cleric Tajul Muluk (left). (Tempo/arrahmah)<\i>

Shiite cleric Tajul Muluk described his two-year prison sentence as a politically engineered verdict aimed at alienating Shia Muslims after he was sentenced by the Sampang District Court, East Java, on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters after presiding judge Purnomo Amin Tjahjo declared him guilty of blasphemy against Islam, Tajul insisted he was a victim of slander and vowed to appeal to higher courts.

“This is about my dignity: As if I am an infidel. I have videotaped evidence that this trial was fabricated for political ends,” the 39-year-old preacher said.

In his verdict, Judge Purnomo said that, “The defendant was proven to promulgate blasphemy against Islam. Therefore Tajul shall remain in prison under a two-year sentence.”

As in previous trial proceedings, riot police guarded the court.

Tajul will stay in prison for another 21 months, having been in detention since April 12, following the anti-Shia riot that rocked the small city on Dec. 29 last year.

Prosecutor Sucipto accused Tajul of telling his followers that the current Koran was not the original version, and the true Koran is still in the hands of Imam Mahdi.

According to the prosecutor, the Kyai also allowed siri (unregistered) marriage, commonly practiced among Muslims in Indonesia.

The sentence was less than the prosecutor’s demand of five years’ imprisonment. “The defendant was polite during the trial and he is financially responsible for his family,” said the verdict.

Indonesia’s predominantly Sunni Muslims are staunch supporters of predominantly Shia Iran on the international stage, Indonesians are usually much more intolerant of the differences between the sects.

In December, hundreds of residents of Madura Island attacked houses, burning down Tajul’s home. Dozens of Shiite followers who fled are still unable to return to their homes because the villagers threaten to kill them if they do.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has demanded the government ban Shia, and declared another Muslim sect, Ahmadiyah, deviant. The promulgation of Ahmadiyah has since been banned by the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Oppression and violence against minorities, including Catholic and Protestant Christians continues to increase. Hundreds of churches have been burned down or closed by groups claiming to represent Islam.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the government to release Tajul, pointing out that “the government needs to reverse the growing trend of violence and legal action against religious minorities in the country.”

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