An Indonesian court sentenced a Protestant pastor to four years in prison and slapped him with a hefty fine on Monday simply because he shared his faith with a taxi driver.
The Jakarta Post reports that a district court in Tangerang, Java, issued the four-year sentence and a fine equivalent to $3,565 to Rev. Abraham Ben Moses, a well-known former Muslim apologist.
Moses, who was arrested last December, was detained after a video was widely circulated that showed him sharing his faith with a Muslim taxi driver.
According to Voice of the Martyrs, Moses can be heard in the video speaking about the Muslim prophet Muhammad and his teaching on marriage. In the video, he is also reportedly shown asking the driver to accept Christ.
Because of the video, Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia's largest Islamic organizations, filed a blasphemy complaint against Moses.
According to the Jakarta Post, the presiding judge, Muhammad Damis, stated that Moses was convicted under an Electronic and Information Transactions Law on grounds that he spread information that was intended to incite hatred on the basis of religion.
Moses' legal team will reportedly file an appeal.
"The sentence is too heavy for the defendant," Maxie Ellia, one of the evangelist's lawyers, said, according to the Jakarta Post.
According to the United States-based watchdog group International Christian Concern, the sentencing was praised by Muhammadiyah.
"This decision should be appreciated and should serve as a valuable lesson for all parties," Muhammadiyah official Pedri Kasman was quoted as saying.
Indonesia, where eight out of 10 citizens are Muslim, ranks as the 38th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List.
In a video testimony shared by Voice of the Martyrs earlier this week, Moses stated from prison that the "strength that I get is from Jesus who strengthens me."
"He is a very good friend. He never leaves us. His promise is 'Yes' and 'Amen,'" Moses said through his translator. "He will take care of you and your whole family."
Other Christians have also been victimized by the nation's blasphemy law. Most notably, former Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian also known as "Ahok," was accused of blasphemy during the middle of his re-election campaign after a doctored video emerged in the fall of 2016. He was sentenced last May to two years in prison.
"The Indonesian government should revisit the country's blasphemy law, as it is increasingly being exploited by radical Muslim groups to target individuals who they find to be offensive and theologically 'out-of-line,'" ICC Regional Manager Gina Goh said in a statement. "To honor religious freedom as enshrined in Indonesia's constitution, the government must respect all religions and stop criminalizing Christians when they are merely exercising their right to free speech."
Open Doors USA, which is a prominent persecution watchdog organization, reports that the situation for Christians in the past several years in Indonesia has "deteriorated."
"This is especially true in hot spots like West Java, where radical Islamic groups are powerful, exerting heavy influence on society and politics," Open Doors warns. "These radical groups cause problems for churches that proselytize Muslims and often pressure government officials to ignore applications for construction of church buildings. Meanwhile, converts from Islam usually face persecution from their own families, particularly in the form of isolation and verbal abuse."