The Christian governor of Jakarta was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison for blasphemy, a more severe punishment than expected. In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, critics fear the harsh sentence will encourage hardline Islamist forces to undertake additional challenges against secularism.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s guilty verdict deepened the concern about the rising influence of Islamist groups in the country, who organized huge rallies during a divisive election campaign in which Purnama lost his bid for another term as governor to Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan.
According to Reuters, “President Joko Widodo was an ally of Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian who is popularly known as “Ahok”, and the verdict will be a setback for a government that has sought to quell radical groups and soothe investors’ concerns that the country’s secular values were at risk.”
Head judge of the Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”.
Purnama intends to appeal the ruling.
Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a group of regional lawmakers monitoring rights issues, said, “Indonesia was thought to be a regional leader in terms of democracy and openness. This decision places that position in jeopardy and raises concerns about Indonesia’s future as an open, tolerant, diverse society.”
The United Nations’ Bangkok Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights posted a tweet that read, “We are concerned by jail sentence for Jakarta governor for alleged blasphemy against Islam. We call on Indonesia to review blasphemy law.”
Song Seng Wun, regional economist at CIMB Private Banking, asserted that “Going forward, race and religion will continue to be played out and be used by politicians for whatever agenda that they have.”
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