Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Indonesia: Christian governor's blasphemy conviction by Jakarta court triggers global backlash


The U.N. body said it is "concerned" about the jail sentence, calling on Indonesia to review the blasphemy law, which dates back to 1965.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: Nikkei | Asian Review
By Erwida Maulia | May 10, 2017

JAKARTA -- The surprise two-year prison sentence handed down on Tuesday to Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy against Islam has drawn international condemnation -- and sparked concern over the state of religious tolerance in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia, where most of the population practices moderate forms of Islam, is often hailed as an example of how the faith can coexist with democracy. But the conviction and imprisonment of the ethnic-Chinese Christian Purnama, better known by the nickname Ahok, is causing many to question that statement.

The sentence, which was harsher than what prosecutors had sought, came despite "evidence that his words were manipulated for political purposes," London-based Amnesty International said in a statement. "The verdict will tarnish Indonesia's reputation as a tolerant nation."

The Southeast Asia branch of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also chimed in with criticism, as did New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The U.N. body said it is "concerned" about the jail sentence, calling on Indonesia to review the blasphemy law, which dates back to 1965.

HRW, meanwhile, called the law "discriminatory" against the country's religious minorities, citing past cases of it being used to prosecute the Gafatar religious community and members of the offshoot Islamic sect Ahmadiyya.

The Jakarta court's sentencing of Purnama makes him "exhibit A of the law's dangers and the urgent need for its repeal," said Phelim Kine, HRW's deputy director for Asia. Kine added that "militant Islamist groups were successful in making Ahok's blasphemy prosecution a centerpiece of efforts to defeat him in last month's gubernatorial election."

Purnama was charged with blasphemy after he cited a verse in the Quran during a campaign speech last September. He criticized political opponents who used the verse to discourage Muslims from voting for non-Muslim leaders. The remarks unleashed a wave of protests and boosted the popularity of former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who defeated Purnama in a runoff vote in April.

On Tuesday, judges at the South Jakarta District Court said Purnama had been proven guilty of purposefully insulting the Quran. The two-year sentence was accompanied by an order for immediate detention. Purnama is now behind bars at a police facility outside Jakarta; his deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, has been appointed acting governor.

Purnama has said he will appeal.


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