JAKARTA: A Muslim preacher has been arrested on charges including blasphemy and hate speech after his Islamic boarding school provoked protests for allowing women to preach and pray beside men, police said Wednesday.
The Al-Zaytun boarding school in West Java, Muslim-majority Indonesia’s most populous province, has faced backlash from conservative groups that have accused it of following a version of Islam incompatible with the Qur’an.
School head Panji Gumilang, 77, was detained early on Wednesday after questioning, national police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan told reporters.
“Investigators took legal action… and he is detained in the criminal investigation agency’s detention facility for 20 days,” he said.
Gumilang faces five years in prison for blasphemy, six for spreading hate speech and 10 on the charge of spreading fake news and intentionally causing chaos in public, according to the charges.
The school sparked uproar in conservative circles and protests outside its compound when social media footage in late April showed women praying in the same row as men.
Women are typically expected to pray behind men in traditional Islamic prayer.
Another practice of the school that sparked controversy was allowing women to give a sermon in Friday prayers, a task usually reserved for men in traditional Islamic teaching. The school opened in 1999 and holds around 5,000 students.
It is also accused of ties to Darul Islam, a group that fought for an Islamic state in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s and survived a military defeat.
Thousands have gathered outside the school several times since late June to call for its closure.
Indonesia’s blasphemy legislation has been on the statute books since 1965 but was rarely used before the end of authoritarian rule under dictator Suharto in 1998.
Conservative forms of Islam have since become more popular in Indonesia, which supports a tolerant version of the religion.
However, rights activists say the blasphemy law curbs free speech and puts religious freedom under increased pressure.
Indonesia recognizes six official religions but the growing use of the blasphemy law is fueling fears that its moderate brand of Islam was coming under threat from increasingly influential radicals.
Jakarta’s former governor, the capital’s first Christian leader of Chinese descent, was sentenced in 2017 to two years in jail for blasphemy.
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