Jakarta’s Christian governor given two-year sentence
Persecution | Analysts fear the blasphemy case will embolden Muslim hardliners to radicalize once-moderate Indonesia
by Leigh Jones
Posted 5/09/17, 11:13 am
Supporters of Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama gathered today outside a Jakarta prison where officials ordered him to serve a two-year term following last month’s blasphemy conviction. Today’s sentence came as a surprise after prosecutors recommended two years of probation.
Ahok, the first Christian to serve as Jakarta’s mayor, enjoyed near universal popularity until Muslim hardliners accused him of blasphemy during a political debate last year. Ahok said voters should not be deceived by claims the Quran forbid them from voting for a non-Muslim.
Angry mobs took to the streets of Jakarta, once known for its tolerance. Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world but has largely been seen as a center of moderate Islam. In recent years, radical and extremist groups have gained ground, persecuting minority faiths and demanding the government enforce adherence to Quranic law.
While crowds of jubilant Muslims cheered Ahok’s sentence, supporters decried it as a defeat of tolerance, democracy, and pluralism.
“Brothers and sisters, justice has died in this country,” one man told the crowd of Ahok’s supporters who gathered outside the prison.
Largely because of the blasphemy trial, Ahok lost his bid for reelection last month. The next day, the court handed down its guilty verdict. Ahok’s successor was not supposed to take over until October. The governor said he plans to appeal his sentence.
Analysts fear the ruling will create momentum for hardline Muslim groups trying to push the country toward radical Islam.
“Hardliners will feel emboldened by the ruling, given that the trial represents a wider tussle between pluralism and Islamism in Indonesia,” said Hugo Brennan, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a political risk assessment firm in Singapore.
In issuing the court’s ruling, lead judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto cautioned Ahok and others to watch their words carefully, claiming the governor had degraded and insulted Islam.
“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 himself,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.