- Associated Press - Monday, January 31, 2011

BANDUNG, INDONESIA (AP) - One of Indonesia’s best-known pop stars was sentenced Monday to 3 1/2 years behind bars after sex tapes with his celebrity girlfriends found their way to the Internet, dividing opinion in the 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 hard-liners were outraged, saying the singer had contributed to the country’s moral decline.

Hundreds charged past police to the gates of the courthouse after the verdict was read out, shouting, “Too light! Too light!”

Ariel, 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.

It is seen by many as vaguely worded, its penalties too harsh.

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 their distribution online.

He sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in jail _ well short of the maximum 12 years _ and slapped him with a $25,000 fine.

“As a public figure, the defendant should be aware that fans might imitate his behavior,” Prakoso said, adding that the frontman for Peterpan _ which is also popular in neighboring Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei _ did not show remorse.

His supporters were devastated.

“He’s just a victim,” said Roslawati, 30, as tears streamed from both eyes. “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.

They have 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 Monday, some pelting the police vehicle carrying Ariel to the court with rotten eggs and tomatoes. Others held placards criticizing the star.

When the verdict was read out, they rushed and rattled the gates of the courthouse.

“More years for Ariel!” shouted Kurnia Maryati, a 33-year-old mother of three who was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

“He made a porn movie that’s harmful for our children,” she said. “I’m sure many followed him after they downloaded the videos on their mobile phones.”

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 Monday. She broke down in tears when the ruling was read out.

The second clip showed him with a former girlfriend, also a well-liked model and television presenter.

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