Indonesian comedian arrested for alleged blasphemy, to be tried in court

He made the joke during his stand-up set.

Fiona Tan | February 07, 2024, 03:58 PM



An Indonesian comedian was charged with blasphemy for making a joke that referred to Islam's Prophet Muhammad, during a rally for presidential candidate Anies Baswedan.

The comedian, 33-year-old Aulia Rakhman, who has been detained since December 2023, is set to be tried in court.

Sparked public outrage

According to the Jakarta Globe and BNN, Aulia was performing a two-hour stand-up set during an event on Dec. 7, 2023 titled "Desak Anies" at a cafe in Lampung, Indonesia.

"Desak Anies" (Bahasa for urge or challenge Anies) was an event rallying support for Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta now running for president.

Aulia said then: "What’s in a name? You go to prisons and check how many [inmates] there are bearing the name Muhammad."

His performance went viral online, where many were outraged by his remark allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad.

The Advocates Community of Nusantara Circle (Lisan) lodged a police report against Aulia, accusing him of hate speech and blasphemy.

To be tried in court

In the wake of public backlash, Aulia posted a video on Instagram apologising to the public.

Aulia, who is a Muslim, said he did not mean to insult the faith or Prophet Muhammad during his performance.

Instead, he was calling out individuals named Muhammad who, in his view, did not behave according to the associations with their names.

He also expressed regret for any offence arising from his performance.

Aulia was arrested shortly after his public apology and has remained in police custody since. He was suspected of blasphemy after the police gathered testimonies from seven witnesses and five experts.

The police completed their investigations against Aulia on Feb. 5.

On Feb. 6, they transferred Aulia and his case to the prosecutor’s office in Bandar Lampung, the capital of Lampung province, where he is set to be tried in court for blasphemy.

If convicted of blasphemy, he can be jailed up to five years.

Blasphemy in Indonesia

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world.

It is a constitutionally secular country and officially recognises six religions — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

According to the University of Melbourne, the blasphemy law criminalises those who deliberately express feelings or display behaviour in public that are hostile, abusive, defamatory, hateful, or contemptuous against any of the six official religions in Indonesia.

While the law is not new — it has been implemented since 1965 — it is allegedly being used more as a political weapon, where the number of blasphemy cases has nearly doubled from 10 in 2021 to 19 in 2022.

The number of convictions has also spiked in recent years.

There were just eight cases in the first four decades after the blasphemy law was implemented.

However, this number has ballooned to over 150 cases in the past two decades.

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Top image from CNN Indonesia/YouTube