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Jakarta’s Christian governor found guilty of blasphemy against Islam

Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is seen inside a court during his trial for blasphemy in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 9, 2017, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo courtesy of Antara Foto/ Sigid Kurniawan/via Reuters

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) Jakarta’s Christian governor was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday (May 9), a harsher than expected ruling that is being seen as a blow to religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

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


RELATED: ‘Dirty’ Jakarta election looms as religious politics resurface


President Joko Widodo was an ally of Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian who is popularly known as “Ahok,” and the verdict will be a setback for a government that has sought to quell radical groups and soothe investors’ concerns that the country’s secular values were at risk.

As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the 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.”

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance and for minorities.

“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?” Harsono said.

A supporter of Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama weeps near the court after his conviction of blasphemy in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 9, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Weeping supporters

Purnama told the court he would appeal the ruling.The governor was taken to an East Jakarta prison after the verdict, and his lawyer Tommy Sihotang said Purnama would remain there despite his appeal process unless a higher court suspended it.

Shocked and angry supporters, some weeping openly, gathered outside the prison, vowing not to leave the area until he was released, while others vented their shock on social media.

Some lay down outside the jail blocking traffic, chanting “destroy FPI,” referring to the Islamic Defenders Front, a hard-line group behind many of the protests against Purnama.

“They sentenced him because they were pressured by the masses. That is unfair,” Purnama supporter Andreas Budi said earlier outside the court.

Home affairs minister Tjahjo Kumolo said Purnama’s deputy would take over in the interim.

Thousands of police were deployed in the capital in case clashes broke out, but there was no immediate sign of any violence after the court’s verdict.

Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence on charges of hate speech. The maximum sentence is four years in prison for hate speech and five years for blasphemy.

Hard-line Islamist groups had called for the maximum penalty possible over comments by Purnama that they said were insulting to the Islamic holy book, the Quran.

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

An incorrectly subtitled video of his comments later went viral, helping spark huge demonstrations that ultimately resulted in him being bought to trial.

Purnama denied wrongdoing, though he apologized for the comments made to residents in an outlying Jakarta district.

Purnama lost his bid for re-election to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan, in an April runoff after the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years. Purnama is due to hand over to Baswedan in October.

If Purnama’s appeals failed, he would be prevented from holding public office under Indonesian law because the offense carried a maximum penalty of five years, said Simon Butt of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney.

Analysts say the radical Islamist groups that organized mass protests against Purnama had a decisive impact on the outcome of the gubernatorial election.

Rights group fear Islamist hard-liners are in the ascendant in a country where most Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam and that is home to sizable communities of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and people who adhere to traditional beliefs.

The government has been criticized for not doing enough to protect religious minorities, but Widodo had urged restraint over the trial and called for all sides to respect the legal process.

His government said on Monday it would take legal steps to disband Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), a group that seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, because its activities were creating social tensions and threatening security.

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Reuters

8 Comments

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  • Easiest way to try to derail political rivals in some countries. In others, you need Wiki-leaks or the alt right trolls and fake news folks 🙂

  • To Dominionist Christian fools who rail against the separation of church and state, take a look. This is what you advocate.

  • The Guardian report on this case casts the guilty verdict of the court in a worrying light. The Guardian said:

    “Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, angered religious conservatives after he referenced a verse from the Islamic holy book, Al-Maidah 51 of the Qur’an, on the campaign trail in September. Ahok rather boldly told voters they should not be duped by religious leaders using the verse to justify the claim that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims.”

    “An edited version of that speech was later posted online with several words omitted, making it seem as though Ahok was suggesting the Qur’anic verse itself was misleading, not the Islamic leaders citing it.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/12/jakarta-governor-ahoks-blasphemy-trial-all-you-need-to-know

    If that is so, either Ahok was found guilty for criticising the religious leaders, or he was found guilty on the basis of a false report that had inflamed religious sentiment.

    The first possibility suggests that the blasphemy law is meant to protect the Islamic clergy from atack; the second possibility is that he was convicted on the basis of pious fraud.

  • If the Indonesian government does not stand up to the Muslim extremists Indonesia will become a gulag, worse than Stalin ever created in Russia. It is totally unfair to its people who already live in fear. Decent people no matter what creed do not want to be terrorised by a few criminals.

    Busuki is a good man who believes in fairness and the advancement of all. Indonesians, Indonesia could become a great country, but not under the terror by extremists, who use the Holy Koran for criminal purposes and push the country into poverty and terror. . Busuki must be freed immediately and the criminals who laid the charges, jailed for life.

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