Compiled from reports (see below)
Indonesia’s highest profile Christian politician is tonight in a prison cell, sentenced to two years for blasphemy, and the country’s reputation for pluralism and religious tolerance is in peril. The district court where the verdict was announced was surrounded by radical Islamist mobs calling for his hanging, shouting ‘Allah-u-Ahkbar’ (‘God is great’) — and by tearful supporters devastated at the decision.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known popularly as ‘Ahok’, was once the poster boy for Indonesia’s diversity. An ethnic Chinese and a Christian, he became Governor of Jakarta, capital of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, when his predecessor Joko Widodo won the country’s presidency. Ahok had been Widodo’s deputy governor and the symbolism he gave as both an ethnic and a religious minority running the capital was widely celebrated. With a reputation for abrasive efficiency and effectiveness and for being ‘clean’ in an otherwise often corrupt political environment, Ahok was on course to win his own electoral mandate — until last November, when he was formally charged with blasphemy.
The case goes back to last September, when Ahok reportedly quoted a Quranic verse on the campaign trail while addressing concerns that his political opponents may use the verse to discourage people from voting for him as a non-Muslim. He was then falsely accused of criticising the verse itself. The court case against the governor was filed by several conservative Islamic groups after his statement went viral via a doctored YouTube video, reported Christian Today.
So-called Quranic authority influences verdict
Charisma News reported that as the panel of five judges delivered the verdict condemning Ahok to two years in prison for blasphemy on Tuesday, they cited firebrand Islamist Habib Rizieq as a Quranic authority.
Imprisoned twice for inciting violence, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) had until recently occupied the fringe of Indonesian society, his followers regarded as thuggish vigilantes with a penchant for extremism and extortion.
Rizieq was mentioned among several witnesses as the judges dissected the contentious verse in the Koranic chapter known as Al Maidah. The court endorsed his interpretation that it forbids Muslims voting for non-Muslims. Purnama had “deliberately” and “convincingly” blasphemed, the judges found.
“Rizieq is not qualified as an expert,” said Todung Mulya Lubis, a leading Indonesian lawyer and rights advocate. “I was so shocked listening to that.”
While Purnama repeatedly apologised for any hurt caused to Muslims, one judge, Abdul Rosyad, said the sentence was warranted because “the defendant didn’t feel guilt.”
CBN News reported that the justice overseeing the trial, claimed that the sentencing wasn’t politically motivated and that the trial was simply a criminal case, but Ahok’s lawyer said authorities were pressured into their verdict.
Rejoicing and shock over sentence
For younger hardline Muslims, specifically those belonging to Muhammadiyah, a prominent Islamic social group, the sentence was seen as a victory.
However, for many, the sentence was shocking.
Adrian Sianturi, a supporter of Ahok, says the sentence to a two year imprisonment denies positive social progress, and promotes intolerance and corruption.
This sentiment is shared by many and echoed throughout the capital. Thousands of police forces were sent in to help monitor civilians protesting the sentence.
For Indonesians pushing for tolerance, the sentencing is a hard blow. For Christians, it is yet another reminder of the uphill battle for religious liberty in southeast Asia.
Ruling pushes country toward radical Islam
According to World, analysts fear the ruling will create momentum for hardline Muslim groups trying to push the country toward radical Islam.
“Hardliners will feel emboldened by the ruling, given that the trial represents a wider tussle between pluralism and Islamism in Indonesia,” said Hugo Brennan, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a political risk assessment firm in Singapore.
In issuing the court’s ruling, lead judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto cautioned Ahok and others to watch their words carefully, claiming the governor 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.
Christian Today highlights that the big issue arising out of Tuesday’s verdict is Indonesia’s blasphemy laws. Ahok will appeal against his verdict, and it is hoped that on appeal his sentence may be reduced or even overturned.