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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jakarta governor sentenced to 2 years jail for blasphemy!

Jakarta’s outgoing governor Basuki Tjahaja ‘Ahok’ Purnama has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to two years’ jail.

The 50-year-old ethnic Chinese Christian politician told the court this morning he would appeal the sentence in the next seven days before being taken into custody.

The panel of five Indonesian judges ignored the prosecutor’s recommendation that the blasphemy charge be dropped against Governor Ahok and that he serve only a two-year probation.

Delivering their verdict today in a trial widely seen as a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, the judges said they disagreed with the prosecution and found him “legally and convincingly guilty of blasphemy”.

“The court does not find anything which could excuse the defendant’s actions therefore the defendant must be held responsible for his actions,” the judges said, imposing a two-year custodial sentence.

They also dismissed the defence argument that the case was politically motivated.

The judges conceded it was “likely some have used this case for political gain however we feel this does not eliminate (the defendant’s) guilt”.

Outside the court, anti-Ahok protesters shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “thank you” to the judges, while some Ahok supporters carrying roses left in tears.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos from Indonesia’s pro-democracy Setara Institute said the verdict was a “setback for religious freedom, democracy and rule of law in Indonesia”.

“This was a test for religious tolerance but also a test for Indonesia as a state that upholds the rule of law,” he told The Australian after the verdict.

Mr Bonar said the judgement was particularly surprising given the prosecutors had already recommended a more lenient sentence because they could not prove that Governor Ahok had committed blasphemy.

“For us this shows that the judges were under mass pressure and that the law in Indonesia can still be swayed by the mob.”

But an ecstatic Pedri Kasman, one of numerous plaintiffs in the case, said the verdict showed the judges “ruled with their conscience free from intervention”.

“Let all Indonesians rejoice that there are still judges willing to uphold the law, willing to stand for justice, willing to listen to people’s aspiration and still afraid of God’s wrath,” he said.

Governor Ahok was roundly defeated in the second round of the Jakarta gubernatorial polls last month by Muslim candidate Anies Baswedan, who has been accused of playing up his Muslim credentials and pandering to hard line Islamists to win the election.

Hard line Islamic groups backed by powerful political forces have led the charge for the governor to be jailed for blasphemy for lighthearted comments he made during a speech to fishermen last September, in which he challenged a religious edict from conservative clerics which cited a verse from the Koran to say that Muslims were forbidden to vote for non-Muslims.

A series of rallies has been held in the Indonesian capital since last October demanding Ahok be prosecuted and jailed for blasphemy.

Before the blasphemy allegations, Governor Ahok was considered the overwhelming favourite for re-election. But surveys of voter intention revealed many Ahok supporters felt they could not support him and must instead vote according to their religious conscience.

The charge of blasphemy in Indonesian law carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

The verdict comes less than a day after Indonesia’s security minister announced the government would petition the court to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group which played a key role in the anti-Ahok campaign, for activities that posed a threat to national unity.

Governor Ahok’s fate has been linked with that of president Joko Widodo, who faces his own battle for re-election in 2019.

Revelations last week that Vice President Jusuf Kalla had a hand in the nomination of Ahok’s eventual victor, Anies Baswedan, has led some analysts to predict he could back Jokowi’s likely rival, General Prabowo Subianto, in 2019.

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