9 May 2017
Jakarta’s Christian governor has been
sentenced to two years in prison after a trial that was widely seen as a
measure of religious pluralism in Indonesia, the world’s largest
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as
Ahok, was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act
of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”,
the head judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, told the court.
“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
Another judge, Abdul Rosyad, said reasons
for the stiff sentence included that “the defendant did not feel guilt, the
defendant’s act has caused anxiety and hurt Muslims”.
After the verdict was read out, Ahok was
taken in an armoured police van to a prison in Cipinang, East Jakarta.
Hundreds of supporters wearing his
signature red and blue check print gathered outside the jail on Tuesday
afternoon. A candelit vigil was planned for the evening.
Photos posted on social media showed prison
officials posing with the convicted governor.
Ahok’s lawyer said he would appeal against
the sentence. It was unclear whether he would be released once the legal
challenge was under way.
The blasphemy charge related to Ahok’s
reference to a passage of the Qur’an during his re-election campaign in
September, which hardline Islamist groups said amounted to insulting the holy
He insinuated that his opponents had used a
Qur’anic verse to trick people into voting against him. An edited version of
the speech went viral, sparking outrage. Ahok, a Christian with ethnic Chinese
roots, is a “double minority” in Indonesia.
A series of protests against him drew
hundreds of thousands on to the streets of the capital late last year. On
Tuesday, hundreds of members of hardline Islamist groups gathered outside the
south Jakarta courtroom amid a heavy security presence, with many calling for
Ahok to receive the maximum penalty.
As news of the sentence emerged, some
protesters shouted “God is greatest”.
The government has been criticised for not
doing enough to protect religious minorities, but President Joko Widodo, an
ally of Ahok’s, has called for opponents to respect the legal process.
Thousands of police have been deployed in
the capital to prevent clashes between Ahok supporters and opponents. “Both
groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate but we are taking steps to
prevent clashes,” said the national police spokesman, Setyo Wasisto.
Ahok lost his bid for re-election in an
April run-off to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan, who is scheduled to take over
in October. The vote was the most divisive and religiously charged in recent
With Ahok in detention, Jakarta’s deputy
governor, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, will assume the role of acting governor.
The decision to jail Ahok surprised some
observers because prosecutors had called for a conditional sentence of two
They also dropped their demand that Ahok be
charged with blasphemy under article 156a of the criminal code, which carries a
maximum five-year sentence, instead recommending that he face a lesser charge.
Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at
Human Rights Watch, said the verdict was “a sad day for Indonesia”.
“Ahok’s is the biggest blasphemy case in
the history of Indonesia. He is the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, an
ally of the president. If he can be sent to jail, what could happen to others?”
Harsono said more than 100 Indonesians had
been convicted of blasphemy in the past decade, with acquittals in such cases
Todung Mulya Lubis, a human rights lawyer
who defended the Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, said it was
worrying that one judge cited the leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders
Front as an expert in the judgment.
“[The group’s leader] Rizieq Shihab cannot
be considered as an expert because he openly, publicly accused Ahok of
blasphemy, so he is not an independent, neutral expert any more. But the judges
mentioned his name in their judgment and I thought this is not correct.
“The judges also talked about experts from
[the Islamic organisation] Majelis Ulama Indonesia. With all respect, I don’t
think they can be considered as experts because they had taken sides long
before the trial.”
Lubis said the verdict set a “bad
precedent”, adding: “Religion is a private matter … so when you put it in the
criminal code it can be used by people to discredit and suppress others. This
is the problem with the blasphemy law. This is a very sad moment for us.”
The religious brigade of a nation that is based “on
belief in God, but the state guarantees religious freedom for all” was,
for vested political interests successful in inciting the ignorant mob, NOT to
vote for a non-Muslim and when that non-Muslim who was initially popularly voted in office
of the governor in 2014 correctly expressed his opinion on the issue, was convicted
of blasphemy…… is blasphemy in itself!
It was a sad day not only for Indonesia but for the