JAKARTA – Indonesian police on Thursday declared the editor-in-chief of a prominent English-language daily newspaper a suspect in a blasphemy case over the publication of a caricature purporting to criticize violence inflicted in Iraq by a jihadist group known as the Islamic State.
Jakarta Police Spokesman Rikwanto told reporters that The Jakarta Post Chief Editor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, 47, was named a suspect, citing witness testimonies and evidence, for his responsibility over all products of the Post.
The chief editor issued a statement late Thursday, saying the newspaper did not commit a criminal act as accused, while a journalists’ group said the case threatens the country’s press freedom.
The caricature published by the Post on July 3 depicted a flag emblazoned with the Arabic phrases “La ilaha Illallah,” meaning “there is none worthy of worship except Allah,” and “Allah, Mohamed and Apostle” on a pirate skull.
The police spokesman said they will summon and question Suryodiningrat next week as a suspect. The journalist faces five years in prison for blasphemy against a religion under the Criminal Code.
The police were alerted to the case by a Muslim group, called Jakarta Preachers’ Corps, after the Post issued an apology about the internationally syndicated cartoon and a retraction from its website and print edition.
The editor said, “What we produced was a journalistic piece that criticized the ISIS movement, which has carried out violence in the name of religion,” using the acronym of the extremist group, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“It means that the ISIS caricature was not blasphemous,” he said. “We all know that ISIS is an organization that is banned in Indonesia and across almost the entire world.”
The Post has received a statement from the country’s Press Council that said the case only concerns the code of ethics in journalism and is not a criminal matter, according to Suryodiningrat.
“However, we respect the ongoing process and we will follow it in accordance with the prevailing regulations,” he said.
The Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists, or AJI, slammed the declaration of Suryodiningrat as suspect.
“We urge the police not to use the Criminal Code to deal with journalistic cases, but the Press Law to solve disputes related to news reports and press products,” the press organization said.
The case, according to AJI, will be a “serious threat” for press freedom.
Although infrequent, some chief editors of Indonesian media have been sent to jail in the past, mostly for issuing publications containing blasphemy against religion or pornography.
Four years ago, Playboy Indonesia Chief Editor Erwin Arnada was sentenced to two years in prison for publishing “soft pornography.”
In 1990, veteran journalist Arswendo Atmowiloto was sentenced to four and a half years after the tabloid Monitor, where he was the editor-in-chief, released its popularity survey, which ranked the Prophet Mohamed 11th just below Arswendo himself.
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