05/02/2007, 00.00
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East Java: 41 Christians arrested for blasphemy against Islam

by Benteng Reges
They are charged with making a videotape in which the Qur’an is treated as the cause of all of Indonesia’s ills. Another 60 people are wanted. Christian group confirms the tape’s existence but does not endorse it. Muslim leaders try to appease emotions to avoid violent reactions.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Blasphemy has become a hot issue in Indonesia after 41 people were arrested in Malang (East Java province). The local Police Chief, Muhammad Amin Saleh, officially confirmed that at least 41 members of the Indonesian Students Service Agency (Lembaga Pelayanan Mahasiswa Indonesia or LPMI), an umbrella organisation representing various Protestant groups, were arrested for their alleged involvement in blasphemy against Islam. Some other 60 members of the group are wanted for the same alleged crime.

Blasphemy is one among many important issues that have come under close public scrutiny. It is a punishable offence when it involves attacks against someone’s ethnic origin (Suku), religion (agama), race or skin colour (Ras) and social group (Antar-golongan).

Police are investigating the role the 41 people played in making a controversial video which has been circulating for some weeks.  The one-hour tape shows a group of LPMI members, dressed in Muslim-like attire praying as Christian songs can be heard in the background. A Christian priest is seen leading the prayer, pointing a finger at a copy of the Qur’an, saying that it is the “source of all evil in Indonesia, from violence to terrorism.”

According to police, the taped event is believed to have taken place at Batu's Asida Hotel on December 17-21, 2006.

All the detainees are now being interrogated. The people on the run are believed to have fled to Bali and West Nusa Tenggara Province.

A spokesperson for the LPMI has confirmed the existence of the video, but shied away from justifying it. Instead, he told reporters that it was the personal initiative of the East Java branch.

Police are in contact with religious leaders in Probolingoo and Malang to prevent the matter from turning violent.

For some time the local Ulemas Council have called for the withdrawal of the ‘blasphemous’ tape, but the situation seems under control.

East Java is known as the stronghold of moderate Islam and is home to many members of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation.

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