9 May 2017

Jakarta governor jailed on blasphemy charge

4:56 pm on 9 May 2017

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

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, arrives at a courtroom for his verdict and sentence in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta today.

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, arrives at a courtroom for his verdict and sentence in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta today. Photo: AFP

Calls for Basuki Purnama - commonly referred to as Ahok - to be jailed began last year after an edited version of a speech he made in 2016 appeared on the internet.

Ahok was heard criticising his political detractors, who had used a Koranic verse to convince people not to vote for a non-Muslim.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country. About 85 percent of its population are Muslim, but the country officially respects six religions.

Since then, the 50-year-old says he has been the victim of a "campaign of lies" which he claims contributed to his election loss last month.

Mr Purnama lost his bid for re-election in an April run-off election to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan.

The election was seen as the most divisive and religiously charged poll in recent years by far, and some commentators said it was just the latest example of the "Islamification" of Indonesian politics.

Prosecutors had asked for Ahok to be found guilty of the lesser charge of "expressing hatred towards or insulting" a group - in this case Muslims - as they claimed his actions lacked the intent of blasphemy.

The government has been criticised for not doing enough to protect religious minorities but President Joko Widodo, a key ally of Mr Purnama's, urged restraint over the trial and called for all sides to respect the legal process.

At the United Nations this month, the United States called on Indonesia to end all prosecutions of people for the offences that Ahok was facing.

Riot police outside court

Supporters of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, dance outside the North Jakarta court.

Supporters of the outgoing governor gather outside the North Jakarta court. Photo: AFP

Ahead of the verdict, protesters for and against Mr Purnama had gathered outside the Supreme Court in Jakarta demanding respectively his acquittal or a long prison sentence.

Around 15,000 security personnel from the police and military were providing security at the scene, with riot police and armoured vehicles separating the groups.

Mr Purnama became Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor for 50 years when he took over from Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who was elected president in 2014.

It was significant because, as an ethnic Chinese Indonesian and a Christian, he is a double minority in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

His political success was also seen as a significant development given the violent anti-Chinese riots that occurred in the city in 1998.

Before the blasphemy allegations, he had been widely hailed as a straight-talking politician with a strong anti-corruption stance.

- BBC / Reuters

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