BANDUNG, KOMPAS.com - A packed Indonesian court erupted in cries of anguish Monday as judges jailed one of Southeast Asia’s biggest rock stars over an online sex tape scandal which has polarised the nation.
The sentence drew outraged howls from singer Nazril Ariel’s fans in the court and across the Malay-speaking world, while the “FreeAriel” hashtag shot to the top list of trending topics on microblogging site Twitter.
The 29-year-old frontman of rock band Peterpan was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for “giving an opportunity for others to spread, produce and prepare a pornographic video”, the judges said in their verdict.
Islamist hardliners pelted the police van with rotten eggs and tomatoes as he was escorted to the court, while fans of the husky-voiced heart-throb sang his song “Sahabat” (Friend) and chanted “Free Ariel”. Stick-wielding Islamists later beat people on the street outside the court as tempers flared and police struggled to control the two sides.
The Internet-driven celebrity sex scandal has exposed the gulf between Indonesia’s technologically adept, secular youth and those who cherish conservative religious values in the most populous Muslim-majority country.
Wearing a dark green sweater over a white pinstriped shirt, Ariel looked calm as the sentence was handed down. He told reporters who mobbed him as he was being led back into custody that he would consider an appeal. “I’ll think about it,” he said.
His fans in court, mostly young women, let out a collective cry of despair as the judges condemned him to jail. Many broke into tears and hugged each other. Others shouted “We love you Ariel” and a chant of “Appeal, Appeal” briefly erupted in the tightly packed room.
“I’ll miss him terribly because now I won’t be able to see him on television. This is too severe because he didn’t spread the videos. He should be set free,” said sobbing 20-year-old student Yossi.
Furious Muslim protesters complained that the sentence was too light for a man they see as a threat to the moral fabric of the nation of 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslims.
“Muslims are very disappointed with the sentence. According to sharia law adulterers should be stoned to death,” said Abdul Qohar Al-Qadsi, an Islamist from a hardline group.
The two videos, apparently filmed on a mobile phone, showed Ariel having sex on separate occasions with female television celebrities Luna Maya and Cut Tari, who is married to another man. Maya was seen chatting to Ariel in his holding cell before the sentence was handed down.
The clips spread virally through Indonesian and Malaysian websites but Ariel has always denied distributing them, saying a studio engineer accessed his personal files from his laptop and uploaded them without his permission.
He surrendered to police on June 22 last year amid a national scandal over the X-rated videos. At one point police raided high-school classrooms to search students’ smartphones for signs of the illicit clips.
Dubbed “Peterporn” after Ariel’s pop band, the scandal pushed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to warn that the archipelago was at risk of being “crushed by the information technology frenzy”. It strengthened calls for stricter monitoring and censorship of web usage, which has taken off among Indonesia’s upwardly mobile urban youth.
Research In Motion, the Canadian company that makes BlackBerry smartphones, started blocking access to pornographic websites in Indonesia earlier in January in line with a communications ministry deadline.
Ariel was tried under an anti-pornography law passed by parliament in 2008 despite strong objections from minority groups and civil society organisations, who say the legislation tramples on freedom of expression.
Until its lead singer fell foul of the law, Peterpan was one of the most popular pop-rock bands in Southeast Asia, with a swag of MTV Asia awards and top-selling albums.