Jakarta governor sentenced to 2 years prison for blasphemy

Posted May 10, 2017

Jakarta's outgoing Christian governor has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the Guardian the surprise verdict was "a sad day for Indonesia".

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, was hauled into court a year ago to face trial for allegedly insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election in a case critics said was politically motivated.

Purnama said that he would appeal the court's guilty verdict and sentence. "But it is surprising that they were so harsh, that they imposed a custodial sentence on him at all that was never sought by the prosecutors".

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

The ruling significantly challenges the country's reputation as moderate in the Islamic world, particularly because prosecutors recommended a punishment of two years' probation, not imprisonment. Hundreds of members of hardline Islamist groups gathered outside the south Jakarta courtroom amid a heavy security presence, calling for governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama to be given the maximum penalty possible over comments he made that they believe insulted the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

Purnama had on a work trip previous year 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 edited version of his speech went viral online, sparking outrage.

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

Purnama ended up losing his reelection bid to a Muslim rival named Anies Baswedan in an April runoff election.

He will hand over to Baswedan in October.

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

The tensions whipped up during the Jakarta election have raised concerns about the rising influence of extreme groups in Indonesia, which is home to sizeable communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians 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.

Speaking to CNN, Greg Fealy, associate professor of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University, said: "If you were a non-Muslim and you were considering a career in public life, you're probably more likely to think twice about that".