What if it had been a mosque, and not a church? What if it had been an imam, and not a priest? No one would be getting off with a few months in jail, minus time served. Of course, Indonesia has been downplaying the role of Islamic supremacism in this attack since the beginning, with a police chief insisting the attacks “had nothing to do with religion,” even though the rioters went on a rampage in the first place because they wanted a death sentence for “blasphemy” against Islam. And in that case, the defendant, while he was described as being of a Christian background, had insulted Catholics as well as Muslims. Only the latter group responded in this way.
“17 Temanggung Rioters Get Off Lightly,” by Candra Malik for the Jakarta Globe, June 9 (thanks to Twostellas):
Semarang. Seventeen of the 25 men charged with rioting that destroyed buildings and injured bystanders in Temanggung, Central Java, could be released soon after being given jail sentences ranging from just four to five months.
The Semarang District Court on Thursday gave a four-month sentence to Suprihanto, who was said to have helped the alleged ringleader of the riot round up participants in the Feb. 8 incident. The riot saw a mob angered by a sentence handed down in a blasphemy trial attack two churches and a Christian school.
Not mentioned here is the fact that in one church attack, they savagely beat a priest “as he tried to protect the tabernacle and the Eucharist against the mob.”
Given that Suprihanto has been in detention since Feb. 13, he will be released on Sunday. “I acknowledge the deed and accept the punishment,” Suprihanto said in court.
Sixteen other men were sentenced to five months in prison, less the detention period already served. Their lawyer, Viktor Nizam, said his clients accepted the court’s decision because the sentence was considered fair and mild. Prosecutors had sought 10-month sentences for the men.
They were convicted of vandalism, which carries a maximum penalty of five years and six months in jail.
In the riot, roving mobs of Muslims attacked and vandalized five buildings in Temanggung following the sentencing of Antonius Richmord Bawengan, a Christian, for blaspheming Islam. The rioters were incensed at the five-year sentence handed down to Antonius, which they deemed too lenient, thus setting off the spasm of violence.
Nine people were injured in the violence, most of them from rocks thrown by the rioters.
Antonius was convicted of distributing a book that claimed some of Islam’s holiest shrines were symbols of genitalia, as well as pamphlets describing the religion as a violent one.
Well, the rioters sure showed him…
Antonius Benny Susetyo, the executive secretary of the Interreligious Commission of the Indonesian Bishops Conference, said he deeply regretted the decision of the court. He said it showed that the court did not have independence in upholding the law.
“In fact, since the beginning we have emphasized that the case has nothing to do with any particular religion. It was purely criminal, which must be processed under the law clearly,” he said.
Bawengan was indeed an equal opportunity offender. But response to the sentence — Muslims targeting Christians — had plenty to do with religion. And the light sentences for the offenders did as well. Sadly, the non-Muslims’ best hope for fair sentencing would have been to disconnect the act from the religious motivation so that the defendants might be treated as the thugs they were, and not as Muslims to be given a pass against being held to account by Christians who are regarded as second-class citizens.
Benny added that a prison sentence of just a few months would not be an effective deterrent for the convicts.
“The court showed that it did not dare reveal the real mastermind behind the riots and who the funders were,” he said. “I”m concerned the act of violence will be a model of how to coerce opinion.”
And the light sentences reward bad behavior, ensuring it will be repeated.
The court has yet to hand out its verdict for Syihabuddin, an Islamic scholar accused of being the ringleader. Prosecutors are seeking a one-year sentence for him.