Published: Wed, May 10, 2017
Markets | By Lucia Cruz

Jakarta governor jailed on blasphemy charge

The Indonesian capital's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday. "He's not only the governor of Indonesia's biggest metropolis but also an ally of the President [Joko Widodo]".

His lawyer, I Wayan Sudiarta, said Ahok would appeal the ruling.

After the verdict, the governor was taken to a Jakarta prison but it was unclear whether he would remain in jail or be released later to allow him to file his appeal.

The guilty verdict comes amid concern about the emerging influence of Islamist groups, who held mass demonstrations during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Ahok losing his bid for another term as governor.

Outside the court Tuesday, supporters of Ahok wept while members of Islamic groups punched the air in celebration.

The charges stemmed from a September speech, in which he invoked a verse from the Quran in criticizing the arguments of those who suggested that Muslims could not vote for a Christian leader.

Purnama had on a work trip previous year said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Quran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim.

The Jakarta governor sparked controversy in late 2016 after quoting a verse from the Quran to prove to his supporters that there were no restrictions on Muslims voting for a non-Muslim politician.

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He added: "If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country's largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?"

The maximum sentence for blasphemy in Muslim-majority Indonesia is five years in prison.

Even prosecutors called for the blasphemy counts to be dropped for a lesser charge of "spreading hate", but the judges ignored that recommendation as the Non-Muslim persecution continued.

The two-year prison sentence that was handed to Ahok by the team of judges, led by Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, is a major surprise particularly because prosecutors had only demanded two years probation (and a one-year prison sentence in case Ahok would violate his probation) as they could not find any evidence of blasphemy.

The judge continued, "As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions, including the religion of the defendant himself".

"We can understand but we cannot accept the verdict".

"What is most important is that we all believe in the legal mechanism to solve every problem and that is indeed how a democratic country resolves differences of views", he said.

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