Christian governor of Jakarta sent to jail for blasphemy

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who also goes by the name Ahok, has been sent to jail after a judge declared that he has been found guilty of blasphemy against Islam.

(Antara Foto / Ubaidillah via REUTERS)Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama raises his hand as he arrives at the Cipinang prison in Jakarta, Indonesia May 9, 2017.

Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, the head justice of the Jakarta court, handed Ahok a two-year jail sentence because he was "found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy." The Christian governor, on the other hand, said he would appeal against the guilty verdict, Reuters relays.

Last year, Purnama stirred controversy after he said his political rivals were using a Quranic verse to convince Muslims to not vote for a non-Muslim. A video with incorrect subtitles of his statement went viral and sparked blasphemy accusations and massive protests against him. He has denied the accusation and has since apologized for his statement, but the incident later escalated into a trial.

Ahok was sent to a jail in East Jakarta after Judge Santiarto pronounced the sentence. Atty. Tommy Sihotang, Ahok's legal counsel, said his client would stay in that prison unless a higher court would suspend the sentence.

Many of Ahok's supporters gathered outside the jail, with some of them calling for his release and others weeping out loud. There were also those who blocked traffic by laying down on the street. Andreas Budi, one of the Christian governor's supporters, said the judges were pressured by the public to issue a conviction.

For human rights group Amnesty International, Ahok's conviction in the blasphemy case will be detrimental to Indonesia's reputation for tolerance. Champa Patel, the group's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, called for the country's blasphemy law to be repealed, The Jakarta Post reports.

"Despite protests of his innocence and evidence that his words were manipulated for political purposes, he has been sentenced to two years in prison," said Patel in a statement. "The verdict will tarnish Indonesia's reputation as a tolerant nation."

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairman Charles Santiago echoed Amnesty International's concerns, saying Indonesia was viewed as one of the leaders in the region when it comes to democracy and openness. The United Nations' Bangkok Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also posted a Twitter message calling on Indonesia to revisit its blasphemy law.

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