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Jakarta Governor Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Blasphemy

10 May 2017

"This decision places that position in jeopardy and raises concerns about Indonesia's future as an open, tolerant, diverse society", said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). 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 outgoing governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has been sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy and inciting violence.

"We will appeal", said Ahok shortly after the verdict.

Some lay down outside the jail blocking traffic, chanting "destroy FPI", referring to the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline group behind numerous protests against Purnama. "But it is surprising that they were so harsh, that they imposed a custodial sentence on him at all that was never sought by the prosecutors".

But Ahok supporter Adrian Sianturi said "this decision is the character assassination of a good governor, a clean politician who is rare in this country".

Home affairs minister Tjahjo Kumolo said Purnama's deputy would take over in the interim.

Thousands of police were deployed in Jakarta on Tuesday in case clashes broke out between Purnama's supporters and opponents who are demanding he be dismissed and jailed.

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Tuesday's ruling was a surprising outcome as prosecutors had requested a one-year jail term suspended for two years.

Islamist groups in the country, whose supporters gathered outside the courtroom, had demanded the maximum penalty possible be handed to Purnama on the basis that his comments had insulted the Quran.

Purnama has denied wrongdoing, though he apologised for comments he made a year ago criticising his opponents' use of the Quran in political campaigning suggesting to Muslim constituents that they can not be governed by a person of another faith. An incorrectly subtitled video of his comments later went viral, helping spark huge demonstrations that ultimately resulted in him being brought to trial.

Purnama denied wrongdoing, though he apologised for comments he made previous year.

Purnama had been free during the trial while he was seeking re-election. Purnama's deputy is expected to take over until Baswedan takes office in October.

"The sentence is too light, he should have got the maximum of five years, or better still be hung", said Solihin.

The government has been criticised for not doing enough to protect religious minorities among Indonesia's 260 million population of whom nearly 90 percent profess adherence to Islam.