A Muslim cleric has been arrested on charges of blasphemy and hate speech in Indonesia after his decision to allow women to preach and pray beside men.
Most mainstream schools of Islam around the world segregate men and women during prayers and do not permit women to lead mixed gendered prayers or deliver sermons.
Although it has an overwhelming Muslim majority, it is constitutionally secular and officially recognizes six religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
Panji Gumilang, 77, who runs the Al-Zaytun boarding school in the district of Indramayu in West Java, was arrested on Tuesday, August 1, Indonesian National Police official Djuhandhani Rahardjo told reporters outside its Criminal Investigation Agency in Jakarta.
“Investigators took legal action,” Djuhandhani said on Tuesday. “(Panji will be) detained in the Criminal Investigation Agency’s detention facility for 20 days,” Djuhandhani Rahardjo soad.
Police have reportedly refused to say what Panji had said or done that constituted blasphemy but said they were acting on public complaints.
In June, Indonesia’s Islamic Clerical Council said it was investigating Al-Zaytun for “misguided religious practices,” according to CNN Indonesia. If found guilty of blasphemy and hate speech, Panji faces a maximum 10 years in prison.
Panji’s lawyer Hendra Effendy called for calm from his supporters.
“He is after all, a public figure with millions of supporters… With all this happening, we don’t know what could happen,” he told CNN Indonesia.
Strict Islamic laws are already enforced in parts of Indonesia, including the semi-autonomous Aceh province, where alcohol and gambling are banned and public floggings take place for a range of offenses including homosexuality and adultery.
One of the highest profile blasphemy cases was that of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Indonesian widely known as Ahok and Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor in 50 years.
He went on trial for blasphemy in 2017 after angering hard-line Muslims by referencing a verse from the Quran while campaigning for re-election in 2016.
Despite making a public apology, he was jailed for two years.