Christian governor of Jakarta sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy

The sentence is harsher than expected, leading to concerns about the rise about more radical Islamic groups in the generally moderate Muslim-majority country.

Darren Whiteside/Reuters
Supporters of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, stage a protest outside Cipinang Prison, where he was taken following his conviction of blasphemy, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday.

Jakarta's Christian governor was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy, a harsher-than-expected ruling that critics fear will embolden hardline Islamist forces to challenge secularism in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

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

President Joko Widodo was an ally of Mr. 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".

Purnama told the court he would appeal.

Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a grouping of regional lawmakers overseeing rights issues, criticized the verdict.

"Indonesia was thought to be a regional leader in terms of democracy and openness. This decision places that position in jeopardy and raises concerns about Indonesia’s future as an open, tolerant, diverse society," said Mr. Santiago, who is also a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

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, others shook the barbed-wire topped fence of the prison, while some chanted "destroy FPI," referring to the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline 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.

But, Novel Bamukmin, a leader of the Jakarta chapter of FPI, said the group objected to the sentence "because it was still far from what we had expected."

President Widodo on Tuesday urged all parties to respect the court verdict as well as Purnama's decision to appeal.

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

Thousands of police were deployed in case clashes broke out, but there was no sign of any violence after the 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.

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

While on a work trip last year, Purnama said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran 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.

Radical Islamist groups

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

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

Song Seng Wun, regional economist at CIMB Private Banking, said that the verdict was "not a huge shock" to investors because most blasphemy cases in Indonesia end in convictions.

"Going forward, race and religion will continue to be played out and be used by politicians for whatever agenda that they have," Mr. Song said, adding significant capital outflow was only likely if there was a deterioration of law and order.

Rights group fear Islamist hardliners are in the ascendant in a country where most Muslims practise a moderate form of Islam and which is home to sizeable communities of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and people who adhere to traditional beliefs.

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

Widodo's government said this week 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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Christian governor of Jakarta sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2017/0509/Christian-governor-of-Jakarta-sentenced-to-two-years-in-prison-for-blasphemy
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe