The Supreme Court must move the blasphemy trial of a Shiite religious scholar off East Java’s Madura Island to prevent fueling further violence there, a rights group said on Tuesday.
The Alliance for Solidarity Over the Sampang Case, a gathering a legal organizations, said the trial should be moved to a more neutral location.
“We are proposing to the Supreme Court to move the trial to Jakarta. If moved to Jakarta there would be more advocacy groups, media and nongovernmental organizations that could monitor the case,” said Hertasning Ichlas, the coordinator of the alliance.
He said the minority Shiite community in Madura Island’s Sampang district had long felt vulnerable to attack from the large Sunni population there.
More than 300 members of the Shiite community were displaced when a mob of 500 people attacked and burned Shia houses, a boarding school and a place of worship there in December.
On Jan. 1, the Sampang branch of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) issued an edict describing the teaching of Tajul Muluk, the head of the Shiite Muslim boarding school there, as “deviant.” Two days later one of his relatives, Rois Al Hukuma, reported him to the police for blasphemy.
On March 16, the East Java Police charged Tajul with blasphemy and committing an “offensive action.”
Hertasning said that holding the trial outside Madura would minimize intervention by outsiders, including the Sampang district chief.
“We found that the Sampang district chief used hatred against the Shiite as a campaign tool and this is worrying,” he said.
The alliance also wants the Judicial Commission to monitor Tajul’s trial, he said. The trial opened at the Sampang District Court on Tuesday with the reading of the indictment.
In their indictment, the prosecutors accuse Tajul of blasphemy and insulting Islam, including by telling his students that the sacred Koran was not the original one. He face more than five years in jail if found guilty. The trial resumes next week.
“From the detention to the opening hearing, we felt that there were many irregularities. We also saw a lot of intervention and pressure,” Hertasning said after meeting Judicial Commission members in Jakarta.
He cited among the irregularities the intimidation of judges, witnesses refusing to testify in court and the defense counsel’s work being hindered.
Hertasning said the commission had agreed to sent a team to monitor the trial.