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JAKARTA (ChurchMilitant.com) - Nearly 150 attorneys are backing a blasphemy complaint lodged by Catholics against a Muslim cleric — the same cleric who has spearheaded a campaign to punish a prominent Christian for "blasphemy" against the Koran.
The Indonesian Catholic Student's Association filed its complaint against Habib Rizieq on December 26, after a video showed him mocking the Nativity of Christ.
"If they say 'Merry Christmas' to me, then what does it mean?" Rizieq asked during a Christmas Day speech. "It means congratulations on the birth of Jesus Christ as the son of God. I answer, yalid wa lam lam yulad, meaning Allah did not give birth and was not begotten."
"If God gave birth, then who was the midwife?" Rizieq asked. His remarks were followed by laughter from the audience. The speech was subsequently published online and circulated through the internet.
Rizieq is leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which has organized three massive demonstrations calling for imprisonment for the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, on trial for reportedly insulting the Koran. Rizieq was called as an expert witness during the governor's trial for blasphemy — a move criticized by a human rights group that claimed he was too biased to be called to testify, and he also lacked credentials to be an "expert" in the case.
Purnama is Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor in 50 years.
Now Catholics are turning the tables on the Muslim activist, charging him with violating Article 156(a) of the Criminal Code on blasphemy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment — the same law under which the Christian governor is being charged.
Rizieq is denying the accusations, claiming in a statement that "all religious leaders are satisfied and happy" with his behavior at interfaith gatherings. "[Rizieq] never insulted any religion," read the statement. "Do not spread slander."
It added the warning: "Be careful, Muslims can be wrathful and anger can explode."
Angelo Wake Kako, head of the Indonesian Catholic Student's Association, commented that the lawyers backing the case come from different religious backgrounds. "They offered to help us in facing this case," Kako remarked.
"We felt insulted and hurt by the hate statement from Habib Rizieq," he said. "It mirrored the lack of tolerance towards diversity in Indonesia, which has been nourished by our ancestors and by us."
Petrus Selestinus, coordinator of the Catholic student's legal team, clarified the purpose of lodging the blasphemy complaint. "This is not an effort to incite enmity between Catholics and Muslims," he insisted. "What they are doing is to help each person respect each other."
Father Peter C. Aman, a Franciscan priest and professor of theology at the Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy in Jakarta, commented, "There is intent to offend the doctrine of the incarnation and the intent to provoke laughter."
"Is their view [that] Jesus can be reduced to a laughing stock?" he asked.
Melissa Crouch, expert in Indonesia's blasphemy laws, commented on the unusual nature of the blasphemy case. "I think it is probably unprecedented for a Catholic group to lodge a complaint against a radical Islamist leader," she said. "I think we are in uncharted waters."
Rizieq's website has previously been blocked by the government for spreading extremist content. According to the IT Ministry spokesman, "[The block] was a collaborative request from various agencies, such as the BNPT (the National Counterterrorism Agency), the National Police, and BIN (the National Intelligence Agency)."