Jokowi Ally Found Guilty of Blasphemy Gets Two Years in Jail

  • Blasphemy allegations dominated Jakarta gubernatorial election
  • Outgoing governor Purnama says he plans to appeal the sentence

Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama attends his sentencing hearing in Jakarta on May 9.

Photographer: Bay Ismoyo/Pool Photo via AP Photo

An Indonesian court found Jakarta’s outgoing Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama guilty of blasphemy, sentencing him to two years in jail.

Tuesday’s verdict came even as prosecutors had recommended Purnama, 50, nicknamed Ahok, be found guilty of a lesser charge of insulting Muslims and receive as little as two years probation.

A five-judge panel found Ahok “legally and convincingly” guilty of blasphemy. “We are handing him a prison term of two years and ordering the defendant to be detained,” presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said in reading the outcome.

Ahok was detained immediately after the verdict and taken to Cipinang detention facility in East Jakarta.

His lawyer, I Wayan Sudiarta, said Ahok would appeal the ruling. “We are disappointed in the verdict, which we can’t accept considering the evidence presented,” he said outside the court.

In a statement issued through the Cabinet Secretariat website, President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, urged all Indonesians to respect the law, saying the government was unable to intervene. Ahok is a political ally of Jokowi.

“I ask all parties to respect the existing legal process, as well as the verdict that has been read out by the judges,” Jokowi said. “This includes respecting the appeal that will be undertaken by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.”

“The verdict shows that Jokowi isn’t intervening to save his allies and will uphold the legitimacy of the legal process,” said Siti Zuhro, a professor of domestic politics at Indonesian Institute of Sciences in Jakarta. “The public tension will continue as the people observe the appeal process.”

Hard-liner Victory

“Judges in Indonesia are entirely free to ignore prosecutors’ submissions,” said Tim Lindsey, a professor of Asian law at the University of Melbourne. “But it is surprising that they were so harsh, that they imposed a custodial sentence on him at all that was never sought by the prosecutors.”

“This is another victory for the hard-liner Islamist groups that have led the opposition to Ahok because of his Christian, and I would also add his ethnic Chinese, identity," he said.

The Indonesian rupiah extended its decline after the verdict, falling 0.2 percent to 13,335 against the U.S. dollar. The Jakarta Composite Index closed 0.2 percent lower.

Election Campaign

Ahok was charged with blasphemy after saying in September that voters were being deceived by people attempting to use Koranic verses to say that Muslims should not support a Christian leader.

The allegations went on to dominate the Jakarta gubernatorial election campaign, creating months of political tension and prompting Jokowi to call for unity.

Before the issue became campaign fodder, Ahok held a double-digit lead over his rivals. He lost in a run-off held April 19 to Anies Baswedan, a former education minister under Jokowi, who secured 57.96 percent of the vote.

Ahok, who pushed through several major infrastructure projects and streamlined Jakarta’s bureaucracy, had been due to step down from the post in October. The incoming governor has vowed to work with Jokowi.

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