Photo Credit: Government of the Province of Jakarta via Wikimedia
Basuki Cahaya Purnama

The Christian governor of Jakarta Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison, after an Indonesian court ruled he was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy.”

Ahok, 50, who is Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor and its first ethnic Chinese leader, said he would appeal the verdict. He was then taken to jail, and replaced by his deputy.

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Last September, while campaigning for his re-election, the governor gave in a speech in Thousand Islands where he suggested that some citizens would not vote for him because they are being “deceived using verse 51 of Surah Al Maidah and variations of it,” a reference to the line, “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.”

Surahs are chapters of the Koran.

Some of Basuki’s Muslim opponent groups have cited this verse as grounds to oppose him. The provincial government of Jakarta uploaded the video recording to YouTube in a channel which often features the governor’s activities. This was followed by strong criticism suggesting citing the Surah was an insult to the Koran. An online petition against him collected tens of thousands of signatures.

Several organizations, including the Islamic Defenders Front and a local chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council, reported Basuki to the police, accusing him of having violated Indonesia’s Law On Misuse and Insult of Religion.

On October 10, 2016, Basuki publicly apologized to those he offended with his statement, insisting that it was not his intention to do so. He pointed out that his policies had benefited Muslims, including granting permits for Islamic schools, providing welfare Smart Cards to Muslim students, and building a mosque in the City Hall complex.

He also pointed out that no one in his audience had felt insulted during his campaign speech, in fact, they laughed, appreciating his knowledge of Koran and his sense of humor.

Apparently, the panel of five judges on Tuesday was not amused. In fact, the 2-year prison sentence came after the prosecution had only demanded a 2-year probation for the governor. The maximum sentence for blasphemy in Indonesia is five years in prison.

The lead judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said that “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.”

In Indonesia, 90 percent of a population of 255 million are Muslim. But this country has had a long tradition of pluralism, and it is home to substantial populations of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

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