Indonesian police have brought blasphemy and hate speech charges against the head of a controversial Islamic boarding school, following public uproar over its teachings, including unorthodox treatment of women and use of Hebrew.
Panji Gumilang, head of the Al-Zaytun school in conservative West Java province, was named a suspect by police on Tuesday, national police official Djuhandhani Rahardjo told reporters, and faces a maximum 10 years in prison if found guilt of blasphemy and hate speech.
Founded in 1996 and home to roughly 5,000 students, the boarding school has caused a stir with practices like allowing men and women to pray alongside each other, and women to become preachers, which are uncommon in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Indonesia does not follow Islamic law and the country has a tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam, although more conservative interpretations of the religion have gained ground since the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.
Indonesia's Islamic Clerical Council said some of Al-Zaytun's practices were a "wrong interpretation of the Quran", referring to Islam's holy book. In June it said it was investigating the school for "misguided religious practices".
Panji, 77, has defended the school, saying in a recent interview with Metro TV that women and men were equal according to his interpretation of the Quran.
Rights groups have slammed the use of the blasphemy law in Indonesia which they say curbs religious freedoms in a multifaith country that only officially recognises six religions.
In a case that shook the country's pluralistic foundations, former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama was in 2017 jailed on what many considered trumped-up blasphemy charges, after he warned voters not to be swayed by politicians using the Koran for political campaigning.
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said the Al-Zaytun case was the latest example of discrimination against minority views.
"If a Muslim cleric is accused of committing blasphemy against Islam for promoting women's rights, something must be terribly wrong with both Indonesia's blasphemy law and the mainstream (clerical) groups," he said.