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Indonesian activist charged over 'Christmas ban' post: Lawyer

Indonesian activist charged over 'Christmas ban' post: Lawyer

Indonesians decorate a Christmas tree next to a giant Christmas tree (R) made with used plastic bottles covered by fabric, in Jakarta on Dec 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo)

PADANG: An Indonesian activist who reported a ban on Christmas celebrations in a conservative Muslim province has been charged under a widely-criticised online hate-speech law, his lawyer said Wednesday (Dec 8). 

In December, Sudarto, who goes by one name like many Indonesians, posted claims on Facebook that local authorities in a West Sumatra community banned a Catholic congregation from performing Christmas Mass.

A local resident reported the post to police who said on Wednesday that the activist had been charged with spreading "hate speech" under an electronic information law slammed by critics as too vague and open to misuse.

"(The post) was made based on evidence and facts, but the law is very subjective," lawyer Wendra Rona Putera told AFP.

The small Catholic community in West Sumatra's Nagari Sikabau regency had been banned from performing mass for the past two years because of a local agreement against holding non-Islamic rituals unless they conducted in a church, Putera said. 

The nearest church was over 100km away, he added.

The Southeast Asian nation of some 260 million has significant numbers of religious minorities - including Christians, Hindus and Buddhists - who have been targeted by radical Islamist groups amid concerns about rising intolerance.

Church building has been blocked in some Muslim-majority communities in Indonesia with others have shut down or vandalised in the past.

Sudarto's post went viral online before Christmas, prompting Indonesia's religious affairs ministry to order local officials to allow the Christmas mass.

Police told AFP on Wednesday that the activist's post was a "hoax".

Source: AFP/ad


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