JAKARTA (AFP) – The chief editor of a leading English-language newspaper in Muslim-majority Indonesia has been named a suspect in a blasphemy case after the publication of a cartoon about the Islamic State group, police said Friday.
The Jakarta Post’s Meidyatama Suryodiningrat could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty, and is the latest person to face action under the country’s tough blasphemy laws that have been criticised by rights groups as overly harsh and outdated.
The cartoon, published in the paper on July 3, shows a man raising a flag emblazoned with the Arabic phrase “There is no God but Allah” over a picture of a skull and crossbones, with armed fighters in the background.
Following an outcry from Islamic groups, the Jakarta Post issued a front-page apology and retracted the cartoon five days later, insisting it was meant to “critique the use of religious symbols” and as a “reproach” to IS, a brutal militant group which holds vast swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq.
A group called the Jakarta Muslim Preachers Corps filed a complaint to the police and on Friday, Jakarta police spokesman Rikwanto, who goes by one name, said that Suryodiningrat had been officially named a suspect the previous day.
“The status of MS has been upgraded to suspect,” said the spokesman, using the editor’s initials, the usual practice in criminal cases in Indonesia.
Local media reported that he will be summoned for questioning next week. In some criminal cases in Indonesia, people are first named a suspect and only detained at a later date.
In a statement published on the Jakarta Post’s website, Suryodiningrat said that the paper was “amazed” by the move.
“What we produced was a journalistic piece that criticised the ISIS (IS) movement, which has carried out violence in the name of religion,” he said.
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.