Jakarta's Christian Governor Sentenced To 2 Years For Blasphemy

10 May, 2017, 03:59 | Author: Elaine Woods

An Indonesian court is expected to decide on Tuesday whether Jakarta's Christian governor is guilty of blasphemy against Islam, in a trial that is widely seen as a test of religious tolerance in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Purnama, a Christian and member of the country's ethnic Chinese minority, is somewhat of an unusual case in the country in that he is the first non-Muslim leader of Indonesia's sprawling capital, Jakarta, in over 50 years.

Human rights organizations believe that Purnama's fall represents a major setback for Indonesia, where most Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam in a country that is relatively tolerant of Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the governor of Indonesia's capital city, Jakarta, was given a two-year prison sentence on Tuesday.

The five-judge panel said Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama was "convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy" and ordered his arrest.

By early evening, hundreds of angry supporters had gathered at the high-security prison, some pushing hard against a tall metal gate and others setting a tire alight.

"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 group instrumental in organising mass protests against Purnama.

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And that he be placed on probation for two years, rather than jailed.

Tobias Basuki, an analyst from Jakarta think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the shock decision could have been driven by pressure from Purnama's political foes on the notoriously corrupt judiciary to remove the governor from power as soon as possible.

Home affairs minister Tjahjo Kumolo said Purnama's deputy would take over in the interim. The maximum sentence is four years in prison for hate speech and five years for blasphemy.

Ahok has been on trial for blasphemy since December following a speech he made in September in which he criticised his detractors for using a Koranic verse - Al Maidah 51 - to "fool" people into not voting for a non-Muslim.

Throughout the trial, Mr Purnama denied wrongdoing, but did apologise for his comments.

Purnama lost his bid for re-election in an April runoff - 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.

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.

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