Christian governor of Jakarta jailed for blasphemy

A court in Indonesia found Jakarta's governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama guilty of blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday.

Mr Purnama, a Christian in Muslim-majority Indonesia, has denied blasphemy and plans to appeal.

Ahok was detained immediately after the verdict and taken to Cipinang detention facility in East Jakarta.

The court's decision comes as a surprise to many, given prosecutors had only called for downgraded charges and the much lighter punishment of a year's suspended sentence on charges of hate speech.

Head judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto told the court Ahok was "found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment".

The verdict was met with strong protest.

Officials said thousands of police will be deployed in the capital in case clashes break out between supporters of incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and hardline Islamists who have demanded he be sacked and jailed over allegations he insulted the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

Around 15,000 security personnel from the police and military are providing security at the scene, with riot police and armoured vehicles separating the rival groups.

"Balloons and flowers will be useless", the post added, referring to a recent outpouring of sympathy from supporters of the embattled governor after he lost the April election. Some hugged each other.

"Ahok is already perceived as a clean and reformist politician". But a short distance away, the atmosphere among the governor's critics - a coalition of Islamic groups - was one of anger.

In Indonesia blasphemy cases always lead to prison sentences (we are not aware of a case in which the defendant was acquitted).




The battle is far from over.

Ahok has indicated that he will appeal the court's decision. They have instead sentenced him to two years in jail.

"It will make it hard to hold speeches", Al Jazeera's Vaessen said.

The trial against Ahok was encouraged by Islamist radicals, led by the Islamic Defenders Front organisation, who were against a non-Muslim being in charge of Jakarta, and which organised mass protests against him in October and November.

They staged regular large rallies calling for him to face trial, with some extremists even calling for him to be executed.

In a statement issued through the Cabinet Secretariat website, President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, urged all Indonesians to respect the law, saying the government was unable to intervene.

Purnama is the first ethnic Chinese Christian to govern the Indonesian capital.

His political success was also seen as a significant development given the violent anti-Chinese riots that occurred in the city in 1998.

But the controversy overshadowed scheduled elections last month. In the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, Ahok was defeated in the second, and final, round by Anies Baswedan, while Ahok had been comfortably leading the opinion polls prior to the emergence of the "hate-speech video".

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country.

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