The chief editor of The Jakarta Post -- an English language daily in Indonesia -- was named a suspect in a blasphemy case late on Thursday, six months after the newspaper published a cartoon mocking the Islamic State group, according to media reports. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.
The cartoon, published on July 3, showed an ISIS militant dressed in black and raising a flag similar to the one used by the militant group. The cartoon flag contains the Islamic declaration “There is no God but Allah” emblazoned on it in Arabic, along with the sacred words "Allah" and "Muhammad" inscribed inside a skull. The cartoon reportedly infuriated a number of Islamic groups, following which the newspaper retracted the cartoon and issued a front-page apology soon after it was published, calling it an “error in judgment.”
However, on Thursday, police named Suryodiningrat as a suspect in a religious defamation case after a complaint was filed against him by a group named Jakarta Muslim Preachers Corps, which called the cartoon "offensive," according to media reports. Responding to the development, The Jakarta Post said that it was “amazed” by the complaint, in a statement released Thursday.
“We did not commit a criminal act as accused. What we produced was a journalistic piece that criticized the ISIS movement, which has carried out violence in the name of religion. It means that the ISIS caricature was not blasphemous,” the newspaper said, in the statement, adding that even the Muslim-majority country’s press council had declared that the case was related to the journalistic code of ethics and was not a criminal matter.
“Furthermore, the council felt that the Post was trying to send a warning to the public about groups that use Islamic symbols but conduct violent acts,” Nezar Patria, a member of the Indonesian press council, said, according to a report by The Jakarta Post.
Indonesia’s harsh blasphemy laws have been condemned by a number of international rights groups, which have alleged that the law is being misused to persecute religious minorities in the country. Amnesty International had, in a report published in November, urged the country's recently elected President Joko Widodo to review and amend the anti-blasphemy laws so that “individuals holding minority religious beliefs or opinions can practice their faith or express their views without fear of criminalization.”