Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Jakarta’s Christian governor sent to jail for blasphemy


Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaks to his lawyers after the guilty verdict in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Jakarta’s Christian governor was yesterday jailed for two years after being found guilty of blasphemy, in a shock decision that has stoked concerns over rising religious intolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Islamic hardliners outside the Jakarta court shouted “God is the greatest” as news came through that Basuki Tjahaja Purnama would be sent to prison for insulting Islam, a surprisingly harsh punishment after prosecutors recommended only probation.

Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor in half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, looked calm when the verdict was announced and said he would appeal, as some of his supporters in court burst into tears.

He was immediately transferred to jail and authorities said his deputy would take over running Jakarta for the final few months of his term.

Hundreds of his supporters descended on the prison shouting “Free Ahok” — Purnama’s nickname — and shook the gate of the facility.

The 50-year-old was hauled into court last year to face trial on charges of insulting the Koran while campaigning for re-election, after the blasphemy accusations sparked a series of mass protests in Jakarta spearheaded by radical groups and encouraged by his rivals.

Yesterday’s jail sentence and his loss last month to a Muslim challenger in the Jakarta vote, which he had once been favorite to win, has fueled fears that hardliners are growing increasingly influential and that the nation’s much-vaunted tolerant brand of Islam is under threat.

“It’s another big step in the slow decline of religious freedom in Indonesia,” Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said after Purnama was jailed. “If someone of that political stature can be charged and sent to prison, what will happen to others?”

Indonesia, 90 percent of whose 255 million people are Muslim, has a long tradition of pluralistic values and is home to substantial populations of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, but there has been a rise in attacks on minorities.

The five-judge panel at the Jakarta court found Purnama guilty of blasphemy after a months-long trial, in a case criticized as politically motivated.

Announcing the verdict, Presiding Judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said Purnama was “convincingly guilty of committing blasphemy and is sentenced to two years in prison” and ordered him to be detained.

Blasphemy carries a maximum jail term of five years in Indonesia, but the sentence was a surprise as judges typically follow the recommendation of prosecutors — in this case, they had proposed two years probation.

Analysts said the shock verdict could be a result of Purnama’s political rivals putting pressure on the nation’s notoriously corrupt judiciary to remove him from power as soon as possible.

Despite the trial, Purnama retained a loyal following in Jakarta due to his determination to clean up the traffic-clogged and polluted city, and his supporters rallied outside the court and the prison.

“Ahok is innocent and he doesn’t deserve this — he has done good things for us and the city,” said Sari Puji Astuti, 47, as she fought back tears.

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