The chief editor of a leading English daily in Indonesia has been named a suspect for religious defamation under the Muslim-majority country’s Blasphemy Law. The Jakarta Post had published a cartoon with the IS flag animated with a skull and crossbones beneath the words, There is no God but God. Hardly surprising to know that Pakistan is not the only country with the dubious honour of possessing a draconian, antiquated law, which essentially makes it a crime to offend an individual’s or a group’s sensibilities- even in an intellectual work. The cartoon has been defended by the newspaper as being a journalistic piece, though it was retracted and an apology made. The maximum punishment for blasphemy in Indonesia is a five year prison sentence. As long as we are being relative, it’s a free ticket compared to the death sentence the “crime” carries in Pakistan.

Though there is no sophisticated defence that exists for the blasphemy law here or elsewhere, it is marginally heartening to see that the Indonesian paper had the prerogative to defend its case publicly for a charge so ridiculous. This is a luxury nobody accused of blasphemy has in Pakistan. An accusation is usually taken as proof of guilt, the accused thrown into prison, lynched by a mob or assassinated outside prisons and courthouses. There is a constitutional evolution certainly, then, that can happen, and which has happened elsewhere. There are models for a “middle-way” (religiously speaking) that exist in other Muslim majority countries with similar ulemas and fatwa-forming scholars. The nation’s justice system can take control of blasphemy cases while remaining essentially orthodox “Islamic” in character, if eliminating the law entirely is not an option our leadership feel they can immediately take for their own political reasons. Indonesia is hardly the perfect model of a middle-way state; but at a desperate point, we will accept evolution if not immediate elimination. The change will be slow, but a transformation has become urgent and necessary for all those who wait silently inside this country’s jails.