Ousted Christian Governor In Indonesia Jailed For Blasphemy Against Islam

Posted May 10, 2017

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (C), popularly known as Ahok, speaks to his lawyers after judges delivered their sentence during the verdict in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017.

As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the south Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was "found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment".

The judge at the North Jakarta District Court, while sentencing, noted that Ahok, a Chinese-ethnic Christian, did not show any remorse and said he was able to break the unity of Indonesia before his arrest was ordered, Efe news reported.

Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence on charges of hate speech. However, the panel rejected the call by prosecutors to put Purnama on two-year probation. His opponents believe that is too light. "Ahok will be jailed because he insulted religion", read one of many anti-Purnama posts on the Facebook account of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a conservative Islamic group instrumental in organising mass protests against Purnama as he sought re-election.

Massive protests in the past six months against Ahok and Tuesday's verdict are among mounting signs of an increasing religious conservatism in the world's most populous Muslim nation, which has been traditionally been seen as a bulwark of tolerance and pluralism in the Islamic world.

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The Indonesian government has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to protect religious minorities.

"Both groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate, but we are taking steps to prevent clashes", said Setyo Wasisto, the national police spokesman.

Purnama lost his bid for re-election in an April run-off - after the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years - to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan. He will officially hand over power to Baswedan in October.

On Nov. 2016, at least 200,000 Islamic protesters took to the streets of Jakarta and demanded Purnama be thrown in jail for blasphemy.

The judges, however, found Ahok guilty of blasphemy when the latter said - in a speech late a year ago - voters should not be influenced by those people that use a specific Koranic verse to discourage people voting for a non-Muslim leader. "At a time when fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, are under increasing threat region-wide, this verdict sends the wrong signal to Indonesia's neighbors in the ASEAN community", he said in a written statement.