The alleged blasphemy took place on 24 October last year, when Agung Kurnia Ritonga, 22, saw a picture showing three Muslims burning a flag containing Islamic symbolism and that belonged to an outlawed militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Ritonga, a student at the University of North Sumatra in the province’s capital Medan, is accused of posting a comment on the Instagram social-media site that insult Mohammed, Islam’s prophet.
“Your God apparently gets burnt also?” Ritonga is accused of saying, UCAN reported. “Your God is just silent over there, playing guitar, getting drunk, and writing porn poetry.”
He was arrested after a large group of Muslims gathered around his house in protest.
Prosecutors told the court this week that the student’s actions could have undermined the country’s interreligious relations.
But Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Indonesia-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, called the blasphemy law discriminatory, and told UCAN that jail sentence in such a case “was because of pressure from radical Muslim groups”.
Since 1968, more than 150 people have been imprisoned under the blasphemy law, and at least six were convicted in 2018 alone, according to Human Rights Watch.
One of the most well-known cases was that of the former Jakarta Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely known as Ahok. He was released from jail last month after serving nearly two years for blasphemy.
His trial was marked by mass protests by hard-line Islamic groups and seen as illustrative of the growing religious intolerance in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
As Indonesia is expected to go to the polls in April to elect a new president, “the strategy of attacking [the incumbent] Mr Joko by manipulating religious sentiment has begun in earnest”, writes Eka Kurniawan, an Indonesian novelist, in the New York Times.
“Unlike Mr. Basuki, he is Muslim — but that doesn’t mean religion can’t be used against him, too. The harshest accusation he has faced so far is that his policies are anti-Islam or against the ulema, Muslim scholars.”
Ahead of regional and national elections, hardline Islamic leaders have called on Indonesians to vote only for Muslim candidates.
In July last year, World Watch Monitor reported that Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission was to propose guidelines to avoid sectarian clashes in the run-up to next year’s national elections.