Freedom for Christian Governor of Jakarta - Ahok - Jailed on Trumped Up Blasphemy Charges!
The popular governor of Jakarta - Indonesia's capital and most populous city - Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, has just been sentenced to two years in prison on trumped up blasphemy charges.
The charges stem from a re-election campaign visit to a nearby district, where Ahok expressed the opinion that some Muslim clerics might be misinterpreting a verse of the Koran, in a Chapter called Al-Maidah, so as to hurt his chances at re-election.
The verse says: "O you who have believed [in Islam], do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you - then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, God guides not the wrongdoing people."
From a layman's reading, it would definitely seem that this verse could be interpreted in any number of ways, especially by Muslim clerics who, on the basis of this verse, believe that Muslims cannot vote for Christians...or, perhaps, do not want Muslims to vote for Christians (or, anyone but their fellow Muslims).
Though Ahok professed his innocence, saying that he was not insulting the Koran, but, rather, criticising some clerics' interpretation of the Koranic verse, nevertheless, this past Wednesday, 10 May, a five-member panel of judges, sitting on the North Jakarta District Court, found him guilty of blasphemy against the Koran, and, at the same time, issued a warrant for his arrest.
While handing down the panel's ruling, the Chief Judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said that 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."
However, Ahok has continued to deny any wrongdoing, and has indicated he will appeal the ruling.
Some observers have suggested that political motivation lies behind the decision to prosecute this case, as well as the decision of the Court to deliver such a stiff sentence, when it could have dismissed the case, acquited him, or handed down a suspended sentence.
At the time the initial charges were made, Ahok was in the middle of a re-election campaign for one of the most prominent political offices in Indonesia. Reports suggest that the campaign was one of the most religiously-devisive campaigns in recent memory.
And, just this past April, Ahok lost the election to his Muslim rival - perhaps, as a direct result of these bogus blasphemy charges.
The fact that Ahok is a double-minority, being both Christian and ethnic Chinese, clearly did not sit well with a certain segment of the majority Muslim population. Indeed, during his trial, several massive rallies, calling for Ahok to be sent to prison (and, even lynched), were organised by radical Islamist associations.
Thus, the District Court has been accused, by some, of bowing to the will of the mob in their ruling and in their sentencing.
Chillingly, one of the judges sitting on the panel, Judge Abdul Rosyad, is also quoted as saying: "As Governor, as a public officer, the defendant should have known that religion is a sensitive issue so he should have avoided talking about religion."
But, in a place like Indonesia, which claims to be a tolerant, pluralist society - and, moreover, which is composed of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and others - politicians should be able to speak respectfully and openly about religion.
This petition, which is directed to the Indonesian President, the US Secretary of State, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and the UN's Secretary General, calls for the Indonesian Government to expedite the appeals process for Ahok, so that a higher court can quickly quash this legal misadventure, and, ultimately, so that Ahok can regain his freedom as soon as possible.
International pressure from the US, the EU and the UN must be brought to bear on Indonesia, one of the latest Muslim majority countries to use blasphemy laws in politically-motivated judgements - this time, probably resulting in the change of administration.
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Freedom for Christian Governor of Jakarta - Ahok - Jailed on Trumped Up Blasphemy Charges