Jailed Jakarta governor Ahok drops appeal against blasphemy conviction

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, was jailed for two years earlier this month for insulting the Quran. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Jakarta's jailed Christian governor on Monday (May 22) made the surprise decision to drop an appeal against his conviction for blaspheming Islam, his family said, as the United Nations stepped up pressure on Indonesia to overturn the controversial sentence.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, was jailed for two years earlier this month for insulting the Quran, a shock decision that has undermined a reputation for religious tolerance in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

Lawyers for Basuki, who is currently in detention, filed an appeal on Monday at the High Court in Jakarta. They believe the judges' decision did not properly take into account testimony from defence witnesses, lawyer Ronny Talapessy told AFP.

"The verdict not only stunned us and the prosecutors, the whole world was left in disbelief," Mr Talapessy said.

But later in the day, Basuki's sister Fify Lety Indra, who is representing the family, said he was dropping the appeal. No reason was given for the decision, though Ms Fify said that the family would explain why in detail on Tuesday (May 23).

"The family have their own considerations and withdrew the appeal," lawyer Ronny Talapessy told AFP, adding he could not disclose the reason for the withdrawal.

In their petition, Basuki's lawyers had also urged the court to release Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader on bail while his appeal is ongoing.

The sentence was widely criticised as too harsh after prosecutors had demanded that he be given just two years' probation.

Prosecutors in the case have already filed an appeal against the decision to jail Basuki.

The appeal came as a group of UN human rights experts urged Indonesia to free the 50-year-old and repeal the country's blasphemy laws, which critics say have been repeatedly used to target minorities.

"Instead of speaking out against hate speech by the leaders of the protests, the Indonesian authorities appear to have appeased incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination," the UN experts said in a statement, reported Reuters.

Letting the verdict stand would undermine freedom of religion in Indonesia, they said.

"We urge the government to overturn Mr Purnama's sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately," the experts said.

"Criminal laws that penalise blasphemy represent an unlawful restriction on freedom of expression, and disproportionately target persons belonging to religious minorities or traditional religions, non-believers and political dissidents," they said.

Basuki was hauled to court last year to face trial for allegedly insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election, after the claims sparked major protests in Jakarta.

He offended Muslims after quoting a passage from the Quran, which he said his opponents were using to trick people into voting against him.

Some interpret the verse as meaning Muslims should not vote for non-Muslim leaders. Basuki had once been a favourite to win last month's Jakarta gubernatorial election but went on to lose to a Muslim challenger following the blasphemy claims.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.