Rights group Amnesty International demanded on Wednesday that Indonesian authorities drop blasphemy charges against Tajul Muluk, a local Shiite leader displaced from his village in East Java’s Madura Island, who is currently under police detention.
Tajul was displaced with over 300 other Shiite villagers on Dec. 29, when an anti-Shiite mob of some 500 people attacked and burned houses, a boarding school and a Shiite place of worship in Nangkrenang village in Sampang, Madura.
Afterwards most of the Shiite who were displaced by the attack returned to Nangkrenang, but Tajul and about 20 other villagers, including his family, were prevented from returning to the village by the attackers, who reportedly threatened to kill them if they returned, and by police.
On Jan. 1, the Sampang branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict describing Tajul’s teachings as “deviant,” and then two days later his own relative, Rois Al Hukuma, reported him to police for blasphemy.
On March 16, the East Java Police charged Tajul with blasphemy, saying he violated Article 156 of the Criminal Code on blasphemy and Article 335 on “offensive actions.”
Tajul is currently being detained at the Sampang prison awaiting trial. His lawyers said they were concerned he would not receive a fair trial in Sampang because of the strong presence of anti-Shiite groups there. They are requesting his trial be moved to the provincial capital Surabaya, according to Amnesty International.
“Amnesty International believes that these charges have been brought against him solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” Amnesty said in a press statement on Wednesday.
“He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally. These blasphemy laws are fundamentally incompatible with Indonesia’s international human rights obligations to protect and respect freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience, religion and equality.”
Amnesty also raised concerns about reports that Shiite villagers in Sampang have continued to face intimidation and threats from individuals trying to force them to denounce their beliefs.
Shiites are a minority Islamic sect in Indonesia. The majority of Indonesian Muslims are Sunnis.