Indonesian governor jailed two years for 'blasphemy'

The "moderate" Muslim country of Indonesia just jailed a popular Christian politician for two years on a charge of blasphemy against the Koran.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok," made an off-the-cuff comment about a verse in the Koran being used against him.  Apparently, the video showing the comment was incorrectly subtitled, leading to mass protests by Muslims.

The comment occurred during Ahok's campaign for re-election, which he eventually lost to an Islamist candidate.


As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was "found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment".

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as "a huge setback" for Indonesia's record of tolerance and for minorities.

"If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country's largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?,"Harsono said.

Purnama told the court he would appeal the ruling.The governor was taken to an East Jakarta prison after the verdict and his lawyer Tommy Sihotang said he would remain there despite his appeal process unless a higher court suspended it.

Shocked and angry supporters, some weeping openly, gathered outside the prison, vowing not to leave the area until he was released, while others vented their shock on social media.

Some lay down outside the jail blocking traffic, chanting "destroy FPI", referring to the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline group behind many of the protests against Purnama.

"They sentenced him because they were pressured by the masses. That is unfair," Purnama supporter Andreas Budi said earlier outside the court.

Home affairs minister Tjahjo Kumolo said Purnama's deputy would take over in the interim.

Thousands of police were deployed in the capital in case clashes broke out, but there was no immediate sign of any violence after the court's verdict.

Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence on charges of hate speech. The maximum sentence is four years in prison for hate speech and five years for blasphemy.

Hardline Islamist groups had called for the maximum penalty possible over comments by Purnama that they said were insulting to the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

While on a work trip last year, Purnama said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim.

An incorrectly subtitled video of his comments later went viral, helping spark huge demonstrations that ultimately resulted in him being bought to trial.

If this was an attempt to appease the Islamists, it won't work. There is no appeasement of these fanatics – only submission to their will.  Instead of dousing the fire of extremism, the action by the court just made it burn hotter.

Indonesia is a multiethnic, multisectarian society that, until recently, was known for its tolerance of religious and ethnic minorities.  It was believed that radical Islam could never get a foothold in the country due to its enlightened administration.

Ahok's conviction changes that perception dramatically.  Even though the government just banned a well-known Islamic extremist from entering the country, it may be far too little, too late.  You can't purport to support religious freedom and tolerance when sentencing someone to serve two years in jail for what amounts to a mistaken translation.

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