Indonesian pop star jailed after sex tapes are posted online

One of Indonesia's best-known pop stars was sentenced yesterday to three and a half years behind bars after sex tapes with his celebrity girlfriends found their way to the internet, riveting and dividing this predominantly Muslim nation.

Liberals said the embarrassment suffered by Nazril "Ariel" Irham – who insists the videos were not intended for public viewing – was punishment enough. But hardliners were outraged, saying the singer was contributing to the country's moral decline.

Hundreds charged the gates of the courthouse in the city of Bandung after the verdict was read out. They yelled "too light, too light", as he sped off in an armoured police car.

Ariel, the lead singer of the country's most popular band, Peterpan, was the first celebrity to be charged under Indonesia's strict anti-pornography law, which came into effect in 2008 despite strong opposition from the public and members of government. The law is seen by many as vaguely worded and as carrying overly harsh penalties.

Ariel insists the tapes were stolen from his house and posted online without his knowledge, but presiding Judge Singgih Budi Prakoso said the pop star did nothing to prevent them from being distributed widely.

The judge sentenced Ariel to three and a half years in jail – well short of the maximum 12 years – and slapped him with a $25,000 (£16,000) fine.

"As a public figure, the defendant should be aware that fans might imitate his behaviour," Judge Prakoso said, adding that the frontman for Peterpan – which is also popular in neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei – did not show remorse.

His supporters were devastated. "He's just a victim," a man named Roslawati, 30, said as tears streamed down his face. "He didn't post that video."

Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, has more Muslims than any other country in the world. Though most are moderate, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years. The group has pushed through controversial laws – including the anti-porn bill – and been known to attack anything perceived as blasphemous, from transvestites and bars to "deviant" religious sects.

More than 500 demonstrators turned out yesterday, some pelting the police vehicle carrying Ariel to the courthouse with rotten eggs and tomatoes. Others held placards criticising the star. When the verdict was read out, they rushed to the courthouse, rattled the gates and briefly scuffled with the singer's supporters. Police fired warning shots to break up the crowds.

"More years for Ariel!" shouted Kurnia Maryati, 33, who has three children and was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

The videos were made public in June. The first six-minute clip purportedly showed Ariel in bed with his girlfriend, Luna Maya, a top model and actress who joined him at the court yesterday. She broke down in tears when the ruling was read out. The second clip showed him with a former girlfriend, Cut Tari, who is also a well-liked model and television presenter.

The clips were posted on Facebook and YouTube and rapidly distributed by mobile phone, prompting the government to try to impose an as yet unsuccessful online filter to prevent porn from being accessed. It is not yet clear if the women in the videos will also be punished.

The man who admitted to posting the tapes on the internet was sentenced yesterday in a separate trial to two years in jail.

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