Jakarta Governor jailed for blasphemy

After a 5-month long court case that left Jakarta bitterly divided, the city's Governor Ahok was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison.

Sabtu, 13 Mei 2017 11:54 WIB

Ahok supporters rally in Jakarta and cities all over Indonesia after the Governor was jailed. (Photo

Ahok supporters rally in Jakarta and cities all over Indonesia after the Governor was jailed. (Photo: KBR)


This week, Jakarta emerges from a case that has bitterly divided the city. 

The last five months has seen a very public court case, a tense election, and huge demonstrations - the biggest in the country since the start of democratic rule nearly 20 years ago. And it all culminated last Tuesday, when Jakarta’s Governor was sent to jail on charges of blasphemy.



Last Wednesday an emotional crowd gathered at Jakarta’s city hall. Dressed in red and white - the colours of Indonesia’s flag - they sang national songs. Some were in tears, some angry, and others sad.

The crowd had gathered to show their support for the city’s Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname, Ahok. He had been sent to jail the previous day.

Ahok is Christian and ethnic Chinese in a majority Muslim nation. After a 5-month long court case that left the city bitterly divided, Ahok was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. 

Ahok’s lawyer, I Wayan Sudirta told reporters they will fight the decision.

“We are disappointed with the decision, and we will appeal it,” he stated outside the courtroom. “We’re disappointed, because we don’t believe that the evidence that was taken into consideration is valid.”                    

In a speech he made last year, Ahok mentioned the Qur’an verse, Al Maidah 51, telling a crowd not to be fooled into believing that non-Muslims cannot lead Muslims. 

A video version the speech then went viral on social media. With an incomplete transcript changing the tone of the comments, the video led hardliners to claim that Ahok’s comment was an insult to the Quran and Islam.  

In Jakarta, mass demonstrations followed - the largest since the fall of the New Order Dictatorship in 1998 - as hundreds of thousands of Islamic demonstrators demanded Ahok’s imprisonment.

Andreas Harsono, researcher at Human Rights Watch, says the response reflects a shift in religious culture in Indonesia.

“It is obviously an Islamisation. A certain kind of Islamisation, because you know, Islam is diverse, Islam has a rich history,” explained Harsono. “But this type of Islam, non-tolerant Islam, discriminatory Islam is going to be more dominant in the future in Indonesia. Right now we are already seeing their influence.”

Over the last 5 months, in a tense Jakarta, the once widely popular Governor divided his days between the campaign trail and the courtroom: campaigning for re-election, while on trial. 

Before the blasphemy case, Ahok’s leadership was held up as a proud symbol of religious pluralism and tolerance, in a country that has witnessed repeated attacks on Christian-Chinese minorities throughout its history. 

But Harsono says Ahok’s blasphemy case is part of a trend that’s been mounting, especially over the last 10 years. 

“The Ahok verdict is one important point, in a slow long decline of religious freedom in Indonesia,” Harsono stated. “Ahok verdict is not the only one, it is one of more than 120 or 130 cases over the last 17 or 19 years of blasphemy.”

More and more cases of blasphemy are now being reported. When they go to trial, the accused are almost always found guilty. 

But Indonesian civil society groups and international bodies, including the UN, contest the legitimacy of the law criminalising blasphemy.

Pratiwi Febry is a lawyer at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, or LBH Jakarta. 

“Hatred can not be objectively assessed,” she said. “Therefore, we do not support the blasphemy law. Twice the Constitutional Court has recommended that the blasphemy law is inconsistent with the rule of law and principles of democratic governance." 

Civil society groups like LBH and Human Rights Watch are pushing to repeal the blasphemy law.

After the verdict was handed down on Tuesday morning, Ahok was immediately escorted to gaol in an armored vehicle. 

In the meantime, his Deputy, Djarot has reluctantly taken over duties as Governor.

“As Vice Governor I offer to act as guarantee for Ahok, so he can be released on parole, and continue his service to the community. I think he is very cooperative, and will not alter the evidence,” Djarot said.

And hundreds of Jakartans have echoed Djarot’s offer, pledging signatures and ID cards to act as guarantees for Ahok,  a governor who is known for his strong stance against corruption.

Outside the prison, peaceful demonstrators have held candle light vigils late into the night. Solidarity demonstrations were held in at least 6 other cities around the country, and even in Hong Kong.

Although his supporters have come out in force, Ahok’s opponents argue he deserved a longer, 5-year sentence.

But Harsono believes that if even a Governor, backed by the President and the country’s largest political party could fall like this, then the promise of justice isn’t strong for other Indonesians.

“That is scary, how many people will end up like Ahok?” Harsono asked. “Still Ahok is a big guy, normal people have as much power as he. The consequence of this jurisprudence is scary for the future of Indonesia.” 

 

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