April 4, 2018 / 11:24 AM / in 22 days

Islamic groups report Indonesian politician for reciting 'blasphemous' poem

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Hardline Islamic groups on Wednesday filed a blasphemy complaint against a daughter of Indonesia’s first president, accusing her of reciting a poem insulting Islam and prompting fresh concerns over intolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, sister of former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, talks to reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a politician, is the third daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party.

Indonesia is a secular country with significant Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious minorities, but a rise of hardline, politicized Islam and stricter interpretations of the religion have undermined its reputation for tolerance in recent years.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was among an alliance of hardline groups that reported Sukmawati, as she is usually known, to police over the poem. The same alliance last year accused Jakarta’s former Christian governor of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

“It’s clear there is an insult toward the teachings of Islam in the poem,” said Eggi Sudjana, a lawyer and an adviser to the alliance.

“We hoped that Ahok’s case would be the last one, but now there are others who dare to insult Islam again,” he said, referring to the ex-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama by his nickname.

Sukmawati apologized for reading the poem, which appeared to favor traditional Indonesian culture and beliefs over conservative Islamic customs like the full veil, in public.

“The poem is a reflection of my concern about the sense of nationalism...and to honor our motherland’s rich cultural traditions and diversity,” a tearful Sukmawati told a news conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.

“I apologize to Islamic people in Indonesia, especially to those who feel offended by the poem,” said Sukmawati, whose family remains highly influential in Indonesia.

FPI’s Novel Bamukmin said the alliance appreciated the apology but would not withdraw its complaint.

“There will be no mercy for those who blaspheme,” he said.

Rights activists feared the controversy was a sign that religious tolerance and freedom of expression are being eroded in the world’s third-largest democracy.

“It’s creating an atmosphere of fear,” said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch. “People never know when someone could report them to the police for blasphemy against Islam.”

Suspects can be jailed for up to five years under the blasphemy laws, which have been criticized by rights groups as draconian and vulnerable to abuse.

Sukmawati’s family issued a statement distancing itself from the issue, saying the poem only reflected the writer’s personal opinion. A spokesman for President Widodo said the palace “did not want to be associated with the issue”.

Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie

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