Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, above, better known by his nickname Ahok, has been handed a two-year jail sentence insulting Islam.
According to the Guardian, the blasphemy charge related to Ahok’s use of a passage of the Koran during campaigning for his re-election to the post of Governor of Jakarta in September,
Hardline Islamist groups that this amounted to insulting the “holy” book.
Ahok, a Christian, insinuated that his opponents had used a Koranic verse to trick people into voting against him. An edited version of his speech went viral online, sparking outrage.
He was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”, the head judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, told the court on Tuesday.
As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions, including the religion of the defendant himself.
Another judge, Abdul Rosyad, said reasons for the stiff sentence included that:
The defendant didn’t feel guilt, the defendant’s act has caused anxiety and hurt to Muslims.
After the verdict was read out Ahok was taken in an armoured police van to a prison in Jakarta. His lawyer said he intended to appeal. It is unclear whether he would be released once the appeal is underway.
Hundreds of members of hardline Islamist groups gathered outside the south Jakarta courtroom amid a heavy security presence, calling for Ahok to be given the maximum penalty of five years. Other reports say that some even called for him to be hanged. As news of the sentence emerged members of the crowd shouted “God is greatest”.
Ahok lost his bid for re-election in an April run-off to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan. He will hand over to Baswedan in October. The vote was the most divisive and religiously charged in recent years.
Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence for Ahok on charges of hate speech. His opponents believe that is too light. The maximum sentence is five years in prison.
Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the verdict was:
A sad day for Indonesia. Ahok’s is the biggest blasphemy case in the history of Indonesia. He is the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, an ally of the president. If he can be sent to jail, what could happen to others,
Harsono said more than 100 Indonesians have been convicted of blasphemy in the past decade, and acquittals in such cases were extremely rare.
Todung Mulya Lubis, a human rights lawyer said it was worrying that one judge cited the leader of a hardline Islamic group known as the Islamic Defender’s Front as an expert in the judgment.
Rizieq Shihab cannot be considered as an expert because he openly, publicly accused Ahok of blasphemy, so he is not an independent, neutral expert anymore. But the judges mentioned his name in their judgment and I thought this is not correct.
The judges also talked about experts from [the Islamic organisation] Majelis Ulama Indonesia. With all respect, I don’t think they can be considered as experts because they had taken sides already, long before the trial.
Lubis said the verdict set a “bad precedent”, adding:
Religion is a private matter … so when you put it in the criminal code it can be used by people to discredit and suppress others. This is the problem with the blasphemy law. This is a very sad moment for us.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn