In a harsher than expected ruling, the Christian Governor of Jakarta was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam. The court ruling has fueled concerns over rising religious intolerance in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
The two year sentence on Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – popularly known as Ahok – comes as a surprise, since the prosecutors only recommended probation. Among his supporters outside the court there was shock and some wept openly. Islamic hardliners however, reportedly cheered and shouted “God is greatest!” when news came through that he was to be sent to prison.
Ahok, an ethnic-Chinese Christian was found guilty of ‘desecrating’ the Quran after saying in a speech that Islamic groups who were using a verse from the Quran to discourage support for him were deceiving voters during recent elections. The verse is interpreted by some as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. Islamic groups then accused him of criticising the Quran.
Ahok told the court he would appeal the ruling. One of his lawyers reported that he was taken to prison directly after the court ruling. It was unclear whether he would remain in jail or be released later to allow him to file his appeal.
The Guardian quotes Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, who said the verdict was “a sad day for Indonesia”.
“Ahok’s is the biggest blasphemy case in the history of Indonesia. He is the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, an ally of the president. If he can be sent to jail, what could happen to others?” he said.
Harsono said more than 100 Indonesians had been convicted of blasphemy in the past decade, with acquittals in such cases extremely rare.
Indonesia ranks as number 46 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. It hosts the world’s largest Muslim population, the majority of which practises moderate Islam. However, fundamentalism has been on the rise, causing Christians and other religious minorities to be more vulnerable to false accusations and injustice in law enforcement.
Source: Reuters; Channel NewsAsia; Open Doors; The Guardian
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