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Legal scholars have called for the release of Shia cleric Tajul Muluk, sentenced to two years imprisonment for blasphemy July, arguing that the court proceedings had been marred with irregularities.
It is claimed that Sampang District Court, which heard the case against Tajul, threw out evidence which could have mitigated charges against the cleric.
Tajul was charged under Article 156a of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on blasphemy.
“Only a small number of witnesses who could speak Indonesia, yet the dossiers were written in the language, with their signatures on them. And the indictment against Tajul was based on these reports,” M. Arief Setiawan, a legal expert from the Yogyakarta-based Indonesia Islamic University (UII) said on Monday.
He said that a thorough investigation should start on possible a miscarriage of justice in Sampang District Court.
“Further investigation is needed to ensure the report was actually based on information from witnesses,” he added.
The lawyers and rights groups have also said that judges had not been consistent in their handling of information from witnesses.
Arif said that the judges declined statements from Shia witnesses because taqiyah — a tenet in faith which allows the concealment of facts, motivations or feelings — could interfere with their judgement. “All statements from the Shia community were considered untruthful and were all then thrown out,” he said.
Tajul, who had his house and boarding-school burned down in December, was accused of preaching that the present-day Koran was not the original version, and that the true Koran is yet to be revealed by to Imam Mahdi, who has a historical link with the descendants of Prophet Muhammad.
The legal experts also accuse the judges of rushing their judgement on Tajul.
Zahru Arqom of Gadjah Mada University said that the judges did not consider that article 156a of KUHP, requires the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office and the Home Ministry to first issue a warning before making decision on whether a teaching should be considered blasphemous.
The article says that if an individual refuses to heed the warning then he can be brought to court and may be sentenced to up to five years imprisonment.
Zahru said that these irregularities were already enough to invalidate the court’s decision. “The Supreme Court should counsel the judges and the Judicial Commission and must launch an investigation into the irregularities. It is better to release 1,000 guilty persons than to send one innocent man to prison,” Zahru said.
Ifdhal Kasim, outgoing chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) concurred with the experts and said that the legal process against Tajul Muluk could be considered a violation of human rights.
“The court should be the institution to guarantee Tajul legal protection. Those who attacked him and his community should be facing legal processes,” Ifdhal said on Monday.
He said that Tajul should not become victim of majority opinion.
“This country is not a Muslim state. A fatwa cannot be used against him. It is only an expert opinion which can be disapproved by other opinion,” he added, referring to the statement by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in East Java that Shia beliefs were heretical.