Date: May 9, 2017
Statute treads on human rights in world's largest Islamic country.
May 9, 2017 (Morning Star News) – Indonesia took a huge leap backwards in its reputation as a moderate Islamic democracy today when a court sentenced the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, to two years in prison for “blaspheming” the Koran.
The blasphemy accusation was key in Ahok’s defeat in a bid to be re-elected as governor of Jakarta last month. Islamic extremist groups opposed to having a non-Muslim lead the city organized massive demonstrations against Ahok, with some observers saying they were aimed at unseating the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
The two-year prison sentence was shocking as prosecutors had recommended a two-year probation. Indonesian law allows a maximum sentence for blasphemy of five years in prison.
In its decision, a five-judge panel said Ahok was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy.” He was taken to Cipinang Prison in east Jakarta, the latest victim of one of the world's blasphemy laws trampling free speech and religious freedom and being invoked with ulterior Islamist motives.
He said he would appeal, and it was unclear if that process would lead to his release.
The accusation of blasphemy stemmed from a video that appeared last September of Ahok telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim leader. The verdict is certain to embolden the Islamic extremists who erupted in jubilation at its announcement.
The charge arose after a speech Ahok made to city officials on Sept. 27, 2016, when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me because you’ve been lied to [or fooled] with Surat Almaidah 51 [Sura 5:51] and the like. That’s your right. If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell, because you’ve been lied to [or fooled], no worries. That’s your personal right. These programs will go forward. So you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Follow your conscience, you don’t have to vote for Ahok.”
Video footage of the speech went viral on YouTube, and Islamic extremists claimed Ahok had blasphemed against the Koran and Islamic clerics. Ahok on Oct. 10 apologized “to all Muslims and anyone who felt offended,” saying it was not his intention to slight Islam or the Koran.
Saying the trial was purely legal and not political, lead judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said Ahok’s comments had degraded and insulted Islam, according to The Associated Press.
“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,” he reportedly said.
But Wayan Sudirta, one of Ahok’s attorneys, said there was “so much pressure” for Ahok to be imprisoned, according to the AP.
Huge street protests against Ahok in the past six months are one sign of a hard-line Muslim movement in Indonesia. The AP notes that another sign is the long-standing habit of vigilante groups preventing Indonesia’s religious minorities from practicing their faith.