Bar workers in Indonesia face blasphemy charges over free drinks for people named Mohammed or Maria

Critics say Indonesia’s strict blasphemy laws are being used to undermine a long-standing reputation for tolerance and diversity in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

A drink ad on the Holywings chain sparked a police investigation following complaints from religious groups. The six were charged under the blasphemy law, which can be punished by up to five years in prison, and the blasphemy provision of the Internet law, which provides for a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

In a social media post that was later deleted, the network offered a free bottle of gin to men named Mohammed and women named Maria every Thursday.

On Tuesday, 12 outlets in the capital were closed after authorities said they did not have licenses to sell alcohol, the Jakarta government said in a statement on its website.

Holywings Indonesia issued an apology for the promotion, which it said was created without the knowledge of management.

The police said that the employees organized the action in an attempt to fulfill the sales plan.

Andreas Harsono, researcher at Human Rights Watch in Indonesia, said the blasphemy law and the online law are becoming “increasingly dangerous.”

“These six people have just set up an alcohol advertisement, maybe laughable in this increasingly Islamic country, but by international standards it’s not a crime,” he said.

The blasphemy law was mainly used against those who were considered offensive to Islam, including the former Christian governor of Jakarta. Basuki “Ahok” Purnamawho was sentenced to two years in prison in 2017 on blasphemy charges that many see as politically motivated.

Indonesia has imprisoned more than 150 people, mostly from religious minorities, since the passage of the blasphemy law in 1965, according to data compiled by Human Rights Watch.