Ex-Jakarta governor out of jail after nearly two years

Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama smiles as he undergoes the administrative process before being released on Thursday.
Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama smiles as he undergoes the administrative process before being released on Thursday.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ BASUKIBTP

Supporters turn up to watch Ahok leave as others speculate on his next moves

Several dozen supporters of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama sang a song and shouted out his name yesterday as they cheered his release from jail after serving nearly two years for a blasphemy conviction.

Mr Basuki, 52, better known by his Hakka Chinese name Ahok, was jailed in May 2017 after a Jakarta court found him guilty of blasphemy against Islam.

He was sentenced to two years' jail but was released early after remission totalling 3½ months for good behaviour.

Trying to move on, he has requested to be called "BTP", the initials of his full name, henceforth.

Mr Basuki's supporters, clad in red, blue and white shirts, had gathered outside the Mobile Brigade Command's Detention Centre in Depok, South Jakarta, to await his release. They chanted a national song adapted to cheer his freedom, singing "BTP is free, independent!"

"Basuki Tjahaja Purnama got out of the (detention centre) around 7.30am," his secretary, Ms Ima Mahdiah, told journalists, adding that he was picked up by his son Nicholas Sean and a group of close supporters.

Outside the detention centre, his supporters rejoiced at the release of the popular, blunt-speaking former governor, known for being incorruptible.

Mr Ramjan Mohammad, sitting in a wheelchair, waited in front of the detention centre since 1am. He said he spent a few hours travelling from his relative's house in Jatinegara in East Jakarta by train and public buses to see his idol.

The 49-year-old said he had met Mr Basuki a few times and remembers how the former governor voiced his concerns for the rights of disabled people.

"I saw improvement of infrastructure and facilities for disabled people, especially in the transportation sector, during his leadership," he told The Straits Times.

He said he was grateful for the changes introduced by Mr Basuki to the chaotic capital, such as cleaning up Jakarta's dirty rivers. "People still need his thoughts," he said.

"Maybe he can become a minister, especially communication minister because he likes talking," he said with a laugh.

Ms Hesti Iriani travelled hundreds of kilometres by train on Wednesday from her hometown Yogyakarta to witness Mr Basuki's release. "I really want to meet him. I want to support him, let him know he's not alone," she said.

The 50-year-old housewife, who wears a veil, said that Mr Basuki set an example of honesty and discipline which inspired not only other leaders, but also ordinary people.

The hot chatter now is on what Mr Basuki will do next, including speculation that the divorcee with three children will soon marry a 21-year-old former policewoman.

Mr Basuki's lawyer, Mr Teguh Samudera, said the politician plans to get into the oil business in addition to hosting a TV show. Mr Basuki is expected to visit his hometown in East Belitung regency in Bangka Belitung Islands province soon, according to media reports.

He is also expected to take a holiday on the resort island of Bali and then travel to Japan, before speaking about his experience in governing the capital and eradicating corruption at the invitation of several countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Nicholas Sean posted a photo of him and his father together on Instagram yesterday, saying: "He's back. My dad's a free man! Thank you everyone for the support."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2019, with the headline 'Ex-Jakarta governor out of jail after nearly two years'. Print Edition | Subscribe