Woman accused of triggering riot leaves Sumatra town

In riot: Residents gather in front of Dewi Samudera, a Chinese temple or pagoda in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra, which was plundered and set ablaze by an angry mob on July 29. - The Jakarta Post.

MEDAN: Meliana, an Indonesian woman of Chinese ethnicity, who made headlines in local and national media last month for allegedly triggering a riot after complaining about the volume of the adzan (Islamic call to prayer) broadcast from a mosque near her house in Tanjungbalai, North Sumatra, has finally decided to leave the city.

Before departing for Medan, the 41-year-old woman and her husband, Acui, had been staying at the Tanjungbalai Police office for more than three weeks because of fears for their safety.

Currently, Meliana, Acui and their four children are living temporarily at their relatives’ home in Medan, because they are afraid to return to their day-to-day activities in a town she called home for eight years.

“We feel traumatized living in Tanjungbalai. It is more comfortable to stay here,” her husband Acui told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Acui said that Meliana still felt very upset about the riots and the burning of temples in the port city. She never imagined her complaint about the volume would trigger the country’s worst anti-Chinese violence since the May 1998 riots when hundreds of Indonesians of Chinese descent were reportedly attacked, raped and even killed in riots that led to the downfall of then president Soeharto.

The Tanjungbalai trouble erupted on July 29 after Meliana complained about the volume of the call to prayer from Masjid Al Maksum near her house. Such complaints are not unusual as even many Muslims object to the use of excessive amplification. Indeed the government has from time to time appealed to mosques to tone down their volume.

Annoyed by her complaint, a crowd converged on her house and the situation escalated with threats made to set her house on fire. Although neighbors banded together to drive off the mob, social media soon played a key role in spreading false rumors and vicious incitement. The mob then burned and ransacked at least 14 Buddhist temples throughout the city.

“Meliana did nothing more than ask why the volume was so loud,” Acui explained.

When asked about whether his wife had been reported by any individual or group to the police for blasphemy, Acui said he knew nothing about it.

“She has never been questioned by the police for that,” he added.

Tanjungbalai Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ayep Wahyu Gunawan confirmed that the police had not questioned Meliana about blasphemy allegations.

“We never arrested Meliana. She and her husband simply asked for protection at the police station in Tanjungbalai, but they have already left,” he told thePost on Monday.

He added that the police would continue to investigate Meliana’s case and they had questioned 11 witnesses. Police have arrested 21 suspects but only two of them are currently in detention. Police have accused them of being instigators of the violence.

The police are now collaborating with linguists from the North Sumatra University (USU) to investigate the blasphemy allegation. “Linguists from the university have already asked us about the chronology of the events. We just need to arrange a time to get their conclusions from them,” Ayep said. The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network


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