Jakarta governor Ahok jailed two years for blasphemy, ordered to serve term immediately

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Supporters of Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama protest an Indonesian court's decision to sentence the governor to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam.
Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, speaks to his lawyers after the end of his trial in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 9, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA - Outgoing Jakarta governor and President Joko Widodo's ally was found guilty of blasphemy by a District Court on Tuesday (May 9) and sentenced to two years in jail.

The hearing on Tuesday capped a long-drawn trial against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was recently defeated by his rival Anies Baswedan at the April 19 gubernatorial election.

Mr Joko urged all Indonesians to respect the court's verdict on Basuki, as well as the latter's decision to appeal.

"What is important is that we trust in the legal mechanism to resolve problems that we face. That is the way a democratic country handles different views in the public. The government cannot intervene in the legal process," Mr Joko told reporters.

The court had ordered the sentence to be carried out immediately even though Basuki - better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok - had indicated his wish to appeal the court's decision. He was taken to Cipinang prison in East Jakarta shortly after the hearing.

The defence team noted that the punishment meted out by the court was heavier than the two-year probation state prosecutors had recommended earlier, and said they planned to appeal.

The court case against Basuki involves a speech to constituents last September, when he was heard referring to a verse in the Quran while telling them that they should not be misled by opponents urging Muslims to reject a non-Muslim leader. Basuki is a Christian.

Supporters of Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, react at the end of his blasphemy trial in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 9, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

A key consideration of the case was whether the governor's comments was blasphemous against Islam, said the five-member judging panel led by presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto.

During the reading of the verdict, the judges said the evidence proved that Basuki had deliberately committed blasphemy and hence was guilty of the charge.

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said, as a result of the verdict, Basuki's deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat will be appointed acting governor until the end of their term in October. This will also be the time when governor-elect Anies and his running mate Sandiaga Uno will take over at City Hall.

The capital was on edge just before the judges delivered the verdict inside an auditorium at the Ministry of Agriculture in South Jakarta, where the hearing was held.

Outside, thousands of police officers stood guard, and deployed concertina wire barricades to prevent an outbreak of violence between Basuki supporters and hardline Muslim protesters, who had gathered near the ministry complex.

An estimated 5,000 supporters of Basuki turned up to rally behind the Christian politician, even putting up a display on the road made up of red and white roses that said "#SAVEAHOK".

But there were also about 5,000 others at the same venue staging a protest to call for the courts to jail Basuki for insulting Islam.

Indonesian Islamic hardliners react after judges delivered their sentence for Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, in Jakarta on May 9, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

The court's decision was met with loud cheers among the anti-Ahok protesters, while supporters of the governor were shocked by the heavier sentence handed by the court.

"Two years is a long time, Ahok is right to appeal, this is unbelievable," said bank clerk Gede, who only goes by one name, referring to the court's guilty verdict and jail sentence.

Many of those who were at the ministry to support him were too distraught to speak and many were seen in tears. At least one woman among the crowd fainted when news of the court's decision reached them.

Basuki's defence team told reporters after the hearing that they respect the court's decision, but still planned to appeal on behalf of their client.

"Why can't we accept it? Because the (political) pressure has been so enormous and has reached the courthouse," said defence lawyer I Wayan Sudirta. "We are disappointed with this ruling, that is why we are appealing."

Mr Tommy Sihotang, who is another defence lawyer on Basuki's team, said he will file a challenge to the court's decision to detain his client.

"Why did they have to decide to detain him? Is there any worry Ahok would flee? Why would he? Remember, he is still the governor," he told reporters.

Lawyers The Straits Times spoke to say Basuki can expect to remain in jail for at least 20 days before a date for his appeal is filed.

Blasphemy cases in Indonesia carry a maximum five years jail term.

But the verdict came as a surprise to many as Indonesian courts typically take the cue from the recommendations of the prosecution during sentencing.

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