Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok (2nd from the rear) out of prison car when arrived at the LP Cipinang prison / photo: Antara News

Governor ‘Ahok’ sentenced by Jakarta District Court to two-year’s imprisonment for blasphemy charge

The North Jakarta District Court has decided that Jakarta Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama was guilty of blasphemy for suggesting that some people had abused a Quranic verse to block his re-election bid and sentence him to two years imprisonment on Tuesday (9 May).

Jakarta Post reported that head of the panel of judges, Dwiarso Budi Santiarso said, “The defendant Ir. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok is proven guilty of committing blasphemy.”

Ahok was immediately detained after the verdict and taken to the Cipinang detention center in East Jakarta. Ahok, whose term as Jakarta Governor will end in October, said he will appeal the verdict.

Antara News reported that though Ahok was initially charged with blasphemy, prosecutors had called for the blasphemy counts to be dropped in exchange for a lesser charge of ‘spreading hate’ in April, admitting there was no evidence that the governor had committed blasphemy,  arguing for two years’ probation and one year in prison for Ahok in the event of reoffence. However, the judges appear to have ignored that recommendation.

The Panel of Judges stated that the defendant deliberately spoke about Surat Al Maidah 51 in his speech during a visit in Kepulauan Seribu and noted that  Ahok in his book titled ‘Merubah Indonesia’ (Changing Indonesia) also alluded to Surat Al-Maidah verse 51.

Abdul Rosyad, a member of North Jakarta District Court said, “Considering that the legal facts showed that the defendant already knew and understood the Koran as the holy book of Islam, (he should know that) it must be respected and appreciated by both Muslims and other religious people including the defendant.”

Jakarta’s first non-Muslim and ethnic Chinese governor, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama, entered the courtroom in Jakarta on 9 May / photo: Jakarta Post

Indonesia has built a reputation as a tolerant, diverse nation, however experts say Ahok’s conviction is the latest example of growing conservatism in the country.

The blasphemy allegation against Ahok has divided the nation and radical Islamist groups, who claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims. It was also instrumental in causing Ahok’s defeat in the 19 April gubernatorial election.

CNN reported associate professor of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University, Greg Fealy, said that almost no one who has been charged under the blasphemy law in Indonesia has ever escaped conviction.

“The blasphemy law has really been a blight on the rule of law and democracy in Indonesia for decades. The fact that Ahok was charged at all was really a product of massive street demonstrations that frightened the government into acting,” Fealy said.

In Dec last year, huge crowds of Indonesian Muslims protested against the governor on the streets of Jakarta, with many demanding for his execution in light of an edited video of his remarks on a Quranic verse being circulated on social media.