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Indonesian Comedian Sentenced to 7 Months in Jail for Blasphemous Joke

Jakarta, Indonesia: A court in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation, has sentenced comedian Aulia Rakhman to seven months in prison for blasphemy after he made a controversial joke about the name Muhammad. This verdict, revealed on Tuesday, has sparked discussions on the sensitive nature of religious topics in the country.

Aulia Rakhman, hailing from Lampung Province on Sumatra island, was found guilty of spreading hatred through his stand-up comedy at an event in December. According to Ricky Ramadhan, a spokesperson for the Lampung prosecutor's office, Aulia's joke, made at a cafe in the provincial capital of Bandar Lampung, suggested that the name Muhammad had lost its positive connotations due to the behavior of many Indonesians who bear the name.

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In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, Muhammad is one of the most common names for men. The joke was perceived as offensive and led to Aulia being reported under Indonesia's blasphemy laws, which impose a maximum sentence of five years for anyone making statements contrary to one of the nation's six recognized religions or attempting to dissuade someone from practicing their faith.

The prosecutors initially sought an eight-month prison term for Aulia. During the trial, Aulia admitted to and expressed regret for his actions, maintaining a respectful demeanor. He had no prior convictions, which the court took into account during sentencing. Nonetheless, Ricky Ramadhan noted that the comedian's actions had disturbed the community, serving as an aggravating factor in the case.

Aulia's conviction adds to a growing list of blasphemy cases in Indonesia. Just last year, six individuals were arrested for blasphemy over a bar chain's promotion offering free alcohol to patrons named Muhammad. Another high-profile case involved Jakarta's former governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, who was sentenced to nearly two years in prison on blasphemy charges in 2017.

Human rights groups have consistently criticized Indonesia's blasphemy laws, arguing that they are often exploited to persecute religious minorities and stifle free speech. Despite these concerns, the laws remain in place, reflecting the deep religious sensitivities within Indonesian society.

Aulia's case underscores the ongoing tension between freedom of expression and religious respect in Indonesia, highlighting the complexities faced by artists and public figures navigating these boundaries.

June 11, 2024 3:06 p.m. 385

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