Jakarta governor Ahok sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy

Jakarta’s Christian governor was sentenced to two years in prison after a trial that was widely seen as a measure of religious pluralism in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, was “found to have been legitimately and convincingly carried out a crime of blasphemy, and because of this, we have imposed two years of imprisonment”, the chief justice, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, told the court.

“As part of a religious society, the defendant must be careful to not use words with negative connotations with regard to the symbols of the religions, including the religion of the defendant himself.”

Jakarta governor Ahok blasphemy trial: everything you need to know

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Another judge, Abdul Rosyad, said the reasons for the stiff sentence that “the accused is not to feel guilty, the defendant’s act has caused anxiety, and bad Muslims”.

After the verdict was read, Ahok was taken in an armoured police van to a prison in Cipinang, East Jakarta.

Hundreds of supporters wearing his signature red and blue check print gathered outside the prison, on Tuesday afternoon. A candlelight vigil has been planned for the evening.

Photos posted on social media showed the officials of the prison posing with the convicted governor.

Ahok, the lawyer said he would appeal against the judgment. It was not clear if it would have been released after the legal challenge.

The blasphemy charges related to Ahok reference to a passage of the Quran during his campaign for re-election in the month of September, that hardline Islamic groups, he said, amounts to insulting the holy book.

He insinuated that his opponents had used a verse from qur’anic to induce people to vote against him. A modified version of the speech went viral, sparking outrage. Ahok, a Christian of ethnic Chinese roots, is a “double minority” in Indonesia.

A series of protests against him, which drew hundreds of thousands to the streets of the capital at the end of last year. On Tuesday, hundreds of members of hardline Islamic groups gathered outside the south Jakarta courtroom in the midst of a heavy security presence, with many calling for Ahok to receive the maximum penalty.

As the news of the ruling emerged, some protesters shouted “God is greatest”.

Samantha Hawley
(@samanthahawley)
Some Protesters not happy with 2 years of imprisonment for Ahok. Wanted 5 pic.twitter.com/cuYdlD3XGq

May 9, 2017

The government has been criticised for not doing enough to protect religious minorities, but President Joko Widodo, an ally of Ahok, has called for opponents to respect the legal process.

Thousands of police were deployed in the capital to prevent clashes between Ahok supporters and opponents. “Both groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate, but we are taking steps to avoid confrontations,” said state police spokesperson, Setyo Wasisto.

Ahok lost his bid for re-election in April by a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan, who is expected in October. The vote was the most divisive and religiously-charged in the last few years.

With Ahok in a state of detention, the deputy governor of Jakarta, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, will assume the role of acting governor.

The decision of the prison Ahok surprised some observers because prosecutors had asked for a conditional sentence of two years probation.

They have also removed the demand that Ahok to be accused of blasphemy under article 156a of the criminal code, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, instead recommending that he face a lesser charge.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the verdict was “a sad day for Indonesia”.

“Ahok is the greatest blasphemy case in the history of Indonesia. He is the governor of the largest city of Indonesia, an ally of the president. If it can be sent to prison, what might happen to the others?”, he said.

Harsono said more than 100 Indonesians had been sentenced for blasphemy in the last decade, with the absolution in these extremely rare cases.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a human rights lawyer who defended the Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, said it was worrying that a judge has cited the leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front as an expert in the judgment.

“[The group leader] Rizieq Shihab can not be considered as an expert because she openly, publicly accused Ahok of blasphemy, then it is not an independent, neutral expert. But the judges said his name, in their judgment, and I thought that this is not correct.

“The judges also spoke of “expert” [the Islamic organization] Majelis Ulama Indonesia. With all due respect, I don’t think they can be considered as experts because they had taken sides long before the trial.”

Lubis said the verdict set a “bad precedent”, adding: “Religion is a private matter … so that when you put in the penal code can be used by people to discredit and suppress the other. This is the problem with the blasphemy law. This is a sad time for us.”