Ex-Jakarta governor Ahok begins life in prison with just a Bible

Farewell wreaths for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was convicted of insulting Islam and given a two-year jail term, at Jakarta's City Hall on Wednesday.
Farewell wreaths for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was convicted of insulting Islam and given a two-year jail term, at Jakarta's City Hall on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ex-Jakarta governor moved to police facility after supporters swamped jail he was sent to

JAKARTA • Jakarta's popular former governor is being held in a simple room at a high-security detention centre, his only comforts being a Bible and visitors twice a week.

It is a grim new life following his conviction for insulting Islam in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was hurriedly transferred to the high-security police facility in a suburb of the city early on Wednesday after his supporters surrounded the Jakarta jail he was initially sent to.

His sister said the family also feared his life was in danger from furious Islamists. "The religious people have been saying in the mosques that his blood is haram (forbidden) and that killing him is good," Ms Fifi Lety Indra, the sister and head of his legal team, told Reuters. "This is necessary protection and it gives us peace and comfort that he's there."

His two-year imprisonment on Tuesday was much harsher than the suspended sentence the prosecution had sought for the ethnic-Chinese Christian former governor, prompting warnings that Islam is creeping into politics and the judiciary of the secular nation.

The blasphemy conviction is a stunning downfall for the close ally of President Joko Widodo. Brash and unafraid to take on the moneyed elite, Basuki - popularly known by his Chinese nickname "Ahok" - was widely admired for his no-nonsense drive to modernise a chaotic city long plagued by traffic and flooding.

His fortunes turned last September, when he was seeking re-election. He said his political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse from the Quran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

LIFE IN DANGER

The religious people have been saying in the mosques that his blood is haram (forbidden) and that killing him is good. This is necessary protection and it gives us peace and comfort that he's there.

MS FIFI LETY INDRA, Ahok's sister and head of his legal team, about his transfer to a high-security police facility in a suburb of Jakarta early on Wednesday after his supporters surrounded the Jakarta jail he was initially sent to.

Basuki denied the blasphemy allegation but apologised for the comments. But hardline groups drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Jakarta, calling for him to be sacked and jailed for insulting Islam's holy book.

He lost his bid for another term as governor in elections this year. His trial, which began late last year, took religious tensions in Indonesia to their highest in years.

Basuki was initially taken to Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta, a high-security prison notorious for its overcrowding, and home to Islamist militants. He was moved to a police compound in Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta because his supporters were blocking traffic around the Cipinang prison.

Though Basuki was born to non-Muslim parents and is a Christian, he was adopted by a Muslim family on the tiny island of Belitung, off Sumatra.

His sister said the only book he took with him was a Bible. "He loves reading his Bible. He has it with him and he can pray whenever he wants," she said.

Basuki's legal team is preparing to challenge his prison sentence.

On Wednesday, the United States Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph Donovan called on government and religious leaders across the archipelago to speak out against intolerance.

According to the Jakarta Globe, he said: "We (the US) do not believe that it should be illegal to express opinions about a particular religion. We believe that blasphemy laws anywhere in the world jeopardise freedom of religion, expression, assembly and freedom of the press."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Ahok begins life in prison with just a Bible'. Print Edition | Subscribe