The Christian governor of Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, has been sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was convicted by a five judge panel on Tuesday.
Ahok has faced accusations of blasphemy since September, when an incorrectly subtitled video of Ahok’s comments on the campaign trail appeared to show him mocking the Koran. However, Ahok denies the charges.
“I did not say [things] that insulted the Quran,” he said in October. “I did not say the Quran was stupid. What I said to the local people of Thousand Islands is that if you are fooled by racists and cowards using that verse in the Quran not to vote for me, then don’t vote for me.”
Ahok could have faced up to five years in prison, but prosecutors recommended a much lighter sentence – two years of probation. However, the five judge panel that convicted Ahok chose to go a harsher route, and sentenced him to two years in jail.
Indonesia is known for being a more moderate Muslim nation, so this ruling came as a surprise to many. The Human Rights Watch called the verdict “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance.
“If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country’s largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?,” asked Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.
Although Ahok lost his reelection campaign last month due to the controversy, he still enjoys widespread support in Jakarta. Video released showed prison officials treating Ahok with considerable respect and courtesy as he arrived at high-security prison to begin serving his sentence. Supporters also gathered outside to protest.
“This decision is the character assassination of a good governor, a clean politician who is rare in this country,” said Adrian Sianturi, one of Ahok’s supporters.
According to NBC News, Ahok plans to appeal his sentence.