Jakarta’s Christian governor jailed for blasphemy against Islam

 
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced to two years’ jail for “legitimately and convincingly” conducting the criminal act. 

JAKARTA: Jakarta’s Christian governor was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy, a harsher-than-expected ruling that critics fear will embolden hardline Islamist forces to challenge secularism in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

Tuesday’s guilty verdict comes amid concern about the growing influence of Islamist groups, who organised mass rallies during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama losing his bid for another term as governor.

President Joko Widodo was an ally of Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian who is popularly known as “Ahok”, and the verdict will be a setback for a government that has sought to quell radical groups and soothe investors’ concerns that the country’s secular values were at risk.

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”.

Purnama told the court he would appeal.

Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a grouping of regional lawmakers overseeing rights issues, criticised the verdict.

“Indonesia was thought to be a regional leader in terms of democracy and openness. This decision places that position in jeopardy and raises concerns about Indonesia’s future as an open, tolerant, diverse society,” said Santiago, who is also a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

WEEPING SUPPORTERS

Purnama 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, others shook the barbed-wire topped fence of the prison, while some chanted “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.

But, Novel Bamukmin, a leader of the Jakarta chapter of FPI, said the group objected to the sentence “because it was still far from what we had expected.”

President Widodo on Tuesday urged all parties to respect the court verdict as well as Purnama’s decision to appeal.

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

Thousands of police were deployed in case clashes broke out, but there was no sign of any violence after the 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 Quran.

While on a work trip last year, Purnama said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Quran 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.

Purnama denied wrongdoing, though he apologised for the comments made to residents in an outlying Jakarta district.

RADICAL ISLAMIST GROUPS

Purnama lost his bid for re-election to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan, in an April run-off – after the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years. He is due to hand over to Baswedan in October.

If Purnama’s appeals failed, he would be prevented from holding public office under Indonesian law because the offence carried a maximum penalty of five years, said Simon Butt of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney.

Song Seng Wun, regional economist at CIMB Private Banking, said that the verdict was “not a huge shock” to investors because most blasphemy cases in Indonesia end in convictions.

“Going forward, race and religion will continue to be played out and be used by politicians for whatever agenda that they have,” Song said, adding significant capital outflow was only likely if there was a deterioration of law and order.

Rights group fear Islamist hardliners are in the ascendant in a country where most Muslims practise a moderate form of Islam and which is home to sizeable communities of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and people who adhere to traditional beliefs.

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

Widodo’s government said this week it would take legal steps to disband Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), a group that seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, because its activities were creating social tensions and threatening security.

Source: CNA/Agencies/rw

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This entry was posted in Democracy, Freedom of expression - Quyền tư do ngôn luận, Human rights - Nhân quyền, Indonesia, Sharia law and tagged , , , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

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