The Christian governor of Jakarta was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in jail for insulting Islam.
An Indonesian court sentenced Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama to prison for blaspheming the Quran, a ruling that puts an end to the long judicial ordeal in the world’s largest Muslim nation.
In announcing its decision, the five-judge panel said Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy” and ordered his arrest. He was taken to Cipinang Prison in east Jakarta.
Photos quickly appeared online of Ahok, who still commands immense popularity in Jakarta, the capital, being warmly greeted by prison staff. Ahok said he would appeal, but it was unclear if he would be released once that process is underway.
At the court, supporters of the governor wept and hugged each other amid shouts of jubilation from members of conservative Islamic groups. The accusation of blasphemy engulfed Ahok in September after a video surfaced of him telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim leader.
Ahok denied wrongdoing, though he apologized for comments he made last year criticizing his opponents’ use of the Quran in political campaigning ahead of the election for governor.
Massive street protests in the past six months against Ahok and Tuesday’s verdict are among the signs of an increasing religious conservatism in Indonesia.
The blasphemy case was a decisive factor in Ahok’s defeat to a Muslim candidate in last month’s election for Jakarta governor. Hardline Islamic groups opposed to having a non-Muslim leader for the city capitalized on the trial to draw hundreds of thousands to anti-Ahok protests in Jakarta that shook the centrist government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
The two-year prison sentence was a surprise outcome after prosecutors had recommended two years of probation. The maximum sentence for blasphemy in Indonesia is five years in prison. Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence on charges of hate speech.
The lead judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said the trial was a purely criminal one and that the court disagreed that there were political aspects to the case. He said Ahok’s comments during the election campaign had degraded and insulted Islam.
“As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions including the religion of the defendant himself,” he said.
Wayan Sudirta, a lawyer for Ahok, said there was “so much pressure” for Ahok to be imprisoned.
“We can understand but we cannot accept the verdict. Therefore we will appeal,” he said.
Ahok rose from deputy governor in 2014 after Jokowi vacated the capital’s governorship following his victory in Indonesia’s presidential election that year.
He was popular with Jakarta’s middle class for efforts to stamp out corruption and make the teeming city more livable. But others were alienated by Ahok’s outspokenness and the demolition of slums that were home to Jakarta’s poorest residents.
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance and for minorities
Thousands of police were deployed in the capital early on Tuesday in case clashes broke out, but there was no immediate sign of any violence after the court’s verdict.