Indonesia: Christian woman with schizophrenia to be tried for blasphemy after bringing dog to mosque

A Christian woman who suffers from a mental illness is facing charges of blasphemy after entering the holy area of the Jam Al Munawaroh mosque.
A Christian woman who suffers from a mental illness is facing charges of blasphemy after entering the holy area of the Jam Al Munawaroh mosque. | Screensho: Sydney Morning Herald

A Christian woman in Bogor, Indonesia, who suffers from schizophrenia, will be tried for blasphemy after bringing her dog to a mosque, angering Muslims. 

According to Benar News, 52-year-old Suzethe Margaret could face up to five years in prison after she wore sandals and brought her dog into the Al Munawaroh Mosque in June. Dogs are considered unclean in Islam and bringing one to a mosque is seen as insulting.

In the video that went viral online documenting the event, Margaret was seen arguing with mosque caretakers. She can be heard saying that she is Christian and demanding to know about her ex-husband who was going to marry another woman in the mosque later that day.

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The woman’s family says she suffers from schizophrenia, a diagnosis confirmed by police following a psychiatric examination at a hospital in Jakarta. The woman’s medical record showed that she suffered from schizophrenia and underwent psychiatric treatment in 2013 but did not complete her therapy.

Indonesia’s criminal code article 44 states that a person who commits a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held criminally liable.

Despite her mental condition, Margaret was arrested in June and faced trial last week. 

Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council, said the woman’s act of “bringing a dog into a mosque was obviously blasphemous.” 

However, the case has been condemned by rights groups, who say it demonstrates how easily Indonesia’s blasphemy law can be abused. 

"The government should revoke the law instead of expanding it and drop the cases against those charged,” said Indonesia Researcher Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch.

University of NSW professor Melissa Crouch, an expert on the laws, called the case tragic and "one that simply should not happen."

"Certainly the wearing of shoes inside a mosque and the presence of a dog inside the mosque would have been disturbing for those present. But that is nothing compared to the absurdity of bringing charges against a woman who appears to have been affected by her illness and whose behavior, as captured on video, bore no intention of insulting Islam," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"This case should be seen as a crisis point in Indonesia in terms of the misuse and abuse of the blasphemy law."

Gina Goh, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “Although I can understand why the Indonesian Muslims were deeply upset by Suzethe’s behavior, we should not forget that she suffers from mental illness and should not be held to the same standard as an ordinary citizen."

“Her case also further proves that blasphemy law in Indonesia has been applied to oppress the minorities in the country, whether they are Christians, Buddhists, or mentally disabled,” Goh continued. “Even if rights groups’ previous attempts to revoke the law have failed, the government needs to ensure the rights of religious minorities out of respect for human rights.”

The country's blasphemy laws made headlines in 2017 when the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (widely known as Ahok), a Christian, was accused of blasphemy and then sentenced to two years in prison. Thousands of Muslim protesters demanded the governor's jailing after a doctored video emerged that falsely showed the politician insulting Islam.

Last year, an Indonesian court sentenced a Christian man to four years in prison after he was accused of insulting Islam and its prophet Muhammad in a Facebook post.

Human Rights Watch notes that the Indonesian government is currently revising its criminal code to expand the 1965 blasphemy law from one to six articles. This would include increasing “the elements of the crime” to include defaming religious artifacts, making noise near a house of worship, persuading someone to be an atheist, and defaming a cleric while in service.

Indonesia ranks as the 30th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2019 World Watch List. 

"While the government has announced plans to tighten the country's blasphemy laws, most problems for believers occur on the local level in confrontations with radical Islamic groups," an Open Doors fact sheet states. 

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