Jakarta governor sentenced to two years for blasphemy


On Tuesday an Indonesian court sentenced Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama to two years in prison for blasphemy over remarks he made about the Koran.

Judges also ordered that Purnama, who had been free while seeking re-election, be detained immediately. "The defendant's action has caused unrest in society and wounded the feelings of Muslims," the presiding judge said.

Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, said after the verdict was read out that he would appeal the decision. Prosecutors had originally requested a one-year jail term, suspended for two years. Security was tight around a government building that had been converted into a makeshift courtroom in South Jakarta, with armed police on standby to guard against trouble involving opposing crowds.

Thousands of hard-line Muslims rallied outside the court demanding judges hand down the maximum sentence of five years for blasphemy. Nearby, Purnama's supporters sang and danced to music blasted through loudspeakers and shouted "Free Ahok!" using his nickname.

Purnama's lawyer, I Wayan Sudirta, said the verdict was "unacceptable," especially after prosecutors recommended a much more lenient sentence. "But we understand the judges were under a lot of pressure," Sudirta told reporters, referring to recent mass rallies by conservative Muslims demanding the governor be jailed.

Purnama lost a re-election bid in last month's gubernatorial election to a Muslim candidate, Anies Baswedan.

During an official function in September, Purnama told local residents that his opponents had "lied" to them by saying the Koran prohibited them from voting for a non-Muslim governor. A video of his speech became available online and led to hundreds of thousands of Muslims demanding his prosecution during rallies in October, November and December.

Purnama's election rival Baswedan was backed by conservative Muslims who wanted incumbent Purnama jailed for the perceived insult to Islam. Another defence lawyer, Tommy Sihotang, said on Tuesday that he did not know whether Purnama, whose term in office will end in October, would go straight into detention. 

The Home Affairs Ministry will likely suspend Purnama and appoint his deputy as acting governor if Purnama is detained during the appeal process, which could take months. 

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said he would make an announcement later in the day, news website Detik.com reported.

Once the clear favourite for a second term, Purnama saw his poll numbers fall after the blasphemy accusations.

Support for the US-educated Baswedan rose after he met one of the leaders of the anti-Purnama protests, firebrand cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab.

Purnama, the first Christian to lead Jakarta in 50 years, is seen by supporters as an effective administrator in a bureaucracy long plagued by corruption and incompetence.    (dpa)

Related articles on Qantara.de:

Indonesia′s gubernatorial elections: The tolerance litmus test

Jakarta election exposes deep political, religious divide

Why is Jakarta's governor on trial for blasphemy?

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