Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, the incumbent Christian and ethnic Chinese governor of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, was found guilty of committing blasphemy by an Indonesian Court on Tuesday, May 9, raising concerns about religious freedom in the country.
During the court hearing on Tuesday, head judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said Purnama was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy,” to which the five-judge panel voted unanimously.
“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,” Santiarto said.
Purnama has been sentenced to two years in jail, and until his term as governor officially ends in October, Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat will serve as the acting governor of Jakarta. Purnama’s jail sentence began on Tuesday, as he was taken to a prison in East Jakarta after the court decision was made.
Purnama’s lawyer expressed that he plans to appeal the case.
Purnama was first accused of blasphemy in November of 2016. In response to some who said that the Quran forbids Muslims from voting for non-Muslims, Purnama had said that politicians are deceiving the people, a comment which was distributed and edited via a video that soon went viral.
Hard-line conservatives said his comments were offensive and that he insulted the Quran.
Though Purnama ran for re-election, he conceded defeat last month to Anies Baswedan, the former education and culture minister. Analysts have said that the trial against Purnama had a significant effect on the election results.
Human rights activists expressed concern that the ruling is an alarming sign for religious minorities in the country.
“It’s a sad day, and it’s frightening. 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?” Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher at the Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times. Purnama is known to have close ties with Indonesia’s current president, Joko Widodo.
Benedict Rogers, the East Asia team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said that the ruling against Purnama represented “an outrageous miscarriage of Justice.”
“It also represents a further, and severe, erosion of Indonesia’s values of religious pluralism as set out in the Pancasila, the state ideology,” Rogers went on.
“Indonesia’s ability to hold itself up as an example of a moderate, tolerant, Muslim-majority democracy is further threatened and is now very questionable.”