A Christian woman in Indonesia will be put on trial for blasphemy, despite suffering from severe mental illness.
In June, 52-year-old Suzethe Margaret offended the Islamic community of Bogor after wearing sandals and bringing her dog into the Al Munawaroh Mosque. In a video of the incident, the woman could be seen arguing with caretakers at the facility and demanding to see her ex-husband, who was due to get remarried in the mosque later that day.
However, according to Benar News, a news site affiliated with Radio Free Asia, the woman suffers from acute schizophrenia — a diagnosis that was confirmed by psychiatric evaluation at the R. Soekanto Police Hospital in Jakarta.
Even a spokesperson from the Bogor police force, Ita Puspita Lena, confirmed that the suspect underwent medical treatment in 2013 for her illness, noting that she did not complete this.
However, despite knowledge of her mental state, Margaret was arrested in June and went to trial last week. The legal proceedings were completed behind closed doors due to her psychological condition. If convicted, this vulnerable woman could be sentenced to five years behind bars.
As Human Rights Watch pointed out, 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.” The laws do, however, allow for a mentally unwell person to “be placed in a lunatic asylum” for up to a year.
Disturbingly, a 2016 HRW report highlighted a plethora of abuses taking place in psychiatric hospitals across the country, including “involuntary treatment, seclusion, and high risk of sexual harassment and violence.”
But despite all the mitigating evidence, many senior politicians continue to call for her prosecution. Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council, said that her actions were “obviously blasphemous,” and issued no defense in light of her ill health.
“[This case] shows how Indonesia’s blasphemy law is easily abused,” wrote HRW’s Indonesian researcher, Andreas Harsono The government should revoke the law instead of expanding it and drop the cases against those charged.”
Speaking to Faithwire, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Gina Goh, noted that “the blasphemy law is often used to persecute people of other faiths.”
“If you complain about the neighborhood’s mosque for being too loud, you could be charged. If you try to proselytize to a Muslim, you can be fined. If you reference a verse from the Qu’ran in a public speech, you can be put to jail,” she added.
“These are real cases in recent years and the aforementioned victims have all been imprisoned. While the founding ideology of Indonesia, Pancasila, is all about inclusion and religious tolerance, in reality, rights of religious minorities such as Christians and Buddhists are often ignored or undermined. As President Jokowi prepares for his second term, he needs to re-examine his policies to prevent further Islamization of the state.”
This is not the first time a blasphemy case has hit the headlines. At the start of this year, the former Christian governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaya Purnama was released from prison after serving two years for the same offense.
“I am very thankful to God for allowing me to spend time in prison,” Ahok said just prior to his release.
Faithwire has reached out to International Christian Concern for more information on this disturbing case.