Indonesia charges bar employees with blasphemy for offering free drinks to ‘Mohammads and Marias’

·2-min read
Municipal officers seal the Holywings bar in Jakarta after police charged six employees with blasphemy over a promotional activity offering free alcohol (Reuters)
Municipal officers seal the Holywings bar in Jakarta after police charged six employees with blasphemy over a promotional activity offering free alcohol (Reuters)

Authorities in Indonesia charged six employees of a bar with blasphemy after it sparked massive outrage for a promotion offering free drinks to people named Mohammad and Maria.

Twelve outlets of popular Indonesian bar chain Holywings were sealed in the capital Jakarta on Tuesday after authorities stripped the chain of its operating permit.

In a social media post that has been now deleted, the chain advertised a promotional offer to give a free bottle of gin to men named Mohammad and women named Maria every Thursday.

The drinks promotion prompted outrage among religious groups in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, leading to complaints that prompted an investigation of the bar.

Dozens of Civil Service Police Unit moved to the 12 outlets to seal the buildings and stuck banners outside the premises, announcing the shutdown of business activities in Holywings’s outlets.

“Anyone who destroys and violates this announcement will be prosecuted in accordance with the applicable law. Thus, it must be fully observed and obeyed,” the banners read, according to Voice of Indonesia.

The Jakarta government said in a statement on its website that the restaurant chain did not have licences to serve alcohol.

Almost 88 per cent of the population in Indonesia is Muslim, and consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam.

Members of an Islamic organisation protest in front of the Holywings bar in Jakarta on 24 June (AFP via Getty)
Members of an Islamic organisation protest in front of the Holywings bar in Jakarta on 24 June (AFP via Getty)

Six people, including Holywings’ creative director and the head of its promotional team, were charged under the country’s stringent blasphemy law, which carries a maximum 10-year jail term, and other charges.

Holywings Indonesia has issued an apology for the promotion and said that it was created without the knowledge of the management.

“We have no intention to associate religion with our promotion and therefore we deeply apologise to the public,” the bar said in a statement last week.

Critics of Indonesia’s blasphemy law have said the legislation is being used to erode the country’s long-standing reputation for tolerance and diversity.

Municipal officers seal the Holywings bar (Reuters)
Municipal officers seal the Holywings bar (Reuters)

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the blasphemy law and a law regulating online activity in the country were becoming “increasingly dangerous”.

“These six individuals just made an alcohol promotion, maybe ridiculous in this increasingly Islamic country, but no crime at all according to international standards,” he said.

The blasphemy law has mostly been used against those who are deemed to have insulted Islam. In 2017, Jakarta’s former governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian man, was sentenced to two years in jail on blasphemy charges that were widely seen as a political move.

The country has so far jailed more than 150 people, mostly from religious minorities, since the law was passed in 1965, according to data collected by HRW.

Additional reporting by agencies

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