Indonesia sentences pastor to four years in prison over remarks about Quran during evangelism attempt

Pastor Abraham Ben Moses (L) appears in a screen capture of a video from Voice of the Martyrs Australia.YouTube/Voice of the Martyrs Australia

An Indonesian pastor has been sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of religious defamation over remarks he allegedly made about the Quran when he shared the Gospel with a Muslim taxi driver.

Rev. Abraham Ben Moses, 52, was arrested at his home in Tangerang, Banten province in December last year after he was accused of blasphemy for quoting the Quran during his conversation with a taxi driver.

According to UCA News, a video of the conversation that was posted online showed Moses citing Quranic verses on marriage and telling the driver that the Islamic Prophet Muhammad was inconsistent with his own teachings.

On Monday, the Tangerang District Court in Banten sentenced Moses to four years' imprisonment and ordered him to pay the fine of Rp 50 million (US$3,565) or spend an additional month in jail.

"We sentenced the defendant to four years in prison and ordered him to remain in custody," presiding judge Muhammad Damis said, according to The Jakarta Post, citing

Damis said that Moses' conviction stems from his intentional act of spreading information to incite religious hatred against an individual, group or society. The judge stressed that his sentence was lighter than the five-year prison term demanded by the prosecutors.

Moses' lawyers have filed an appeal, saying the sentence is still "too heavy" for their client.

The Muslim group Muhammadiyah, which reportedly filed the police complaint against the pastor on Dec. 8, hailed the verdict in a statement.

"This decision should be appreciated and should serve as a valuable lesson for all parties," Muhammadiya official Pedri Kasman said, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

Moses, a former Muslim who became a popular Christian apologist in Indonesia, is reportedly known for his online evangelistic activities as well as his debates with local Islamic groups.

Theophilus Bela, a former chairman of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, stated in December that the blasphemy complaint against Moses was the first case involving a Christian cleric.

The pastor's wife, Sara Ibrahim, has appealed to other Christians to "pray for pastor Abraham's punishment to be lighter."

ICC Regional Manager Gina Goh has asked the Indonesian government to "revisit the country's blasphemy law, as it is increasingly being exploited by radical Muslim groups to target individuals who they find to be offensive and theologically 'out-of-line.'"

"To honor religious freedom as enshrined in Indonesia's constitution, the government must respect all religions and stop criminalizing Christians when they are merely exercising their right to free speech," Goh added.

According to UCA News, at least 106 people were convicted of blasphemy in Indonesia between 2005 and 2014.