An Indonesian court has sentenced the minority Christian governor of Jakarta to two years in prison for blaspheming the Koran at a trial that undermined the country’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.
In a tense trial that was widely seen as a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”, head judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto told the court.
Ahok was charged with blasphemy after he said clerics had used a Koranic verse to mislead voters by telling them that Muslims were not allowed to vote for a Christian.
He has denied wrongdoing, and said he was not criticising the Koran, but rather the clerics’ interpretation of the verse.
The sentence was harsher than expected and will come as a shock to many of his supporters. TV news coverage of the scene outside the court showed some supporters weeping.
Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence on charges of hate speech. The maximum sentence is four years in prison for hate speech and five years for blasphemy.
Judges said he did it deliberately and did not show remorse. Ahok told the court he will appeal the ruling.
Thousands of police have been deployed across the capital in case clashes break out between Ahok’s supporters and hard-line Islamists who demanded he be sacked and jailed over the allegations.
There was no immediate sign of any violence after the court’s verdict.
“Both groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate, but we are taking steps to prevent clashes,” national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said earlier.
The Indonesian Government had been criticised for not doing enough to protect religious minorities but President Joko Widodo, a key ally of Ahok, urged restraint over the trial and called for all sides to respect the legal process.
Ahok lost his bid for re-election in an April run-off, by far the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years, to a Muslim rival Anies Baswedan — he will hand over to Mr Baswedan in October.
‘Huge setback’ for tolerance and minorities
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said the guilty verdict against Ahok was “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance and for minorities.
“This is bad news for Indonesian minorities,” he said.
“If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country’s largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?”
The tensions whipped up during the Jakarta election have raised concerns about the rising influence of Islamist groups in Indonesia, which is home to sizeable communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and people who adhere to traditional beliefs.
The Government said on Monday it would take legal steps to disband Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), a group that seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, because its activities were creating social tensions and threatening security.