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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Christian Governor in Indonesia Found Guilty of Blasphemy Against Islam

By Joe Cochrane, NY Times, May 9, 2017
JAKARTA, Indonesia–An Indonesian court found the Christian governor of the country’s capital, Jakarta, guilty of blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday, sentencing him to two years in prison in a case widely seen as a test of religious tolerance and free speech.

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was defeated last month by Anies Baswedan, a former minister of education and culture, in an election in which the blasphemy case, and religion, became a major issue.

Blasphemy is a crime in Indonesia, a secular democracy with the world’s largest Muslim population.

The sentence was harsher than what prosecutors had asked for. They had recommended a sentence of two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared Mr. Basuki prison time. He began his sentence on Tuesday. The vice governor is to serve as acting governor until October, when Mr. Anies takes office.

Mr. Basuki told reporters that he would appeal the ruling, as supporters outside the North Jakarta District Court looked on in shock.

Hard-line Islamic groups opposing Mr. Basuki were seen celebrating.

Shortly after the verdict, the governor was taken to Cipinang Penitentiary in Jakarta, which houses criminals including drug dealers and rapists. Under Indonesia’s procedural code, the governor was not eligible to remain free during his appeal because the possible sentence he faced was at least five years, according to legal experts.

Mr. Basuki became governor of Jakarta, the country’s political, social and economic center, in 2014 when his predecessor and chief political ally, Joko Widodo, became president. Mr. Basuki, known as Ahok, was only the city’s second non-Muslim governor and had hoped to become its first directly elected non-Muslim leader.

He had been leading in the polls last year, but in September his campaign faltered when he tried to address attacks from Muslim hard-liners who argued that the Quran forbade Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim. Mr. Basuki said those making that argument were misleading Muslims, a statement that was interpreted by some as insulting the Quran.

Conservative Muslim groups organized several mass rallies against him, demanding that he be jailed for blasphemy. Mr. Basuki and his supporters claimed the protests were orchestrated by his political rivals to sabotage his chances of re-election.

His 16-point defeat last month was seen as a sign of the increasing power of Islamic conservatives, who have pressed for the adoption of Islamic law, or Shariah, throughout the archipelago.

Indonesia has more than 190 million Muslims and smaller numbers of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists among its population of 250 million.

The five-judge panel unanimously voted that Mr. Basuki was “proved legally and convincingly guilty of committing the criminal act of blasphemy,” the head judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said in reading the ruling.

The blasphemy law was created in 1965, and only a handful of people were prosecuted under that law during the next 40 years, according to Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch.

However, he said, the number of people convicted of blasphemy skyrocketed to 106 from 2004 to 2014, during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Mr. Joko’s predecessor. Mr. Yudhoyono’s son was eliminated in the first round of the governor election in February.

Mr. Yudhoyono twice publicly denied that he had orchestrated the protests to damage Mr. Basuki’s candidacy.

“It’s a sad day, and it’s frightening,” Mr. Andreas said. “If the governor of Indonesia’s largest and most complex city, and who is an ally of the Indonesian president, can be brought down and humiliated this way, what will happen to normal Indonesian citizens?”

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