Ahok set to be freed today after blasphemy sentence

Indonesia: Ex-Governor's Blasphemy Sentence Ends

Indonesia: Ex-Governor's Blasphemy Sentence Ends

The expected release of the former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama from a Jakarta prison on January 24, 2019 underscores Indonesia's risky and discriminatory blasphemy law, Human Rights Watch said today.

Ahok, who in a recent letter from prison asked his supporters to refer to him by his initials "BTP" rather than his Chinese nickname - was Jakarta's first Christian and ethnic Chinese governor since the 1960s.

JAKARTA'S former governor is set to be released from prison today, almost two years after he was convicted on blasphemy charges that fanned fears over religious intolerance in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

To his fans Ahok was a politician who worked hard to improve the capital, tackling corruption, revamping public space, and reducing chronic floods and traffic, but his policy of forced evictions also angered many.

But his downfall came quickly after comments he made on the campaign trail during a re-election bid saw him accused of insulting Islam. Ahok would go on to lose the election in April 2017 by a Muslim challenger who courted the conservative Islamic vote, and was convicted less than a month later on the blasphemy charges.

The straight-talking politician did not appeal against his sentence, but strangely state prosecutors did - saying it was harsher than the sentence they had recommended.

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Purnama's case drew worldwide headlines and a wave of criticism, including from the United Nations, which urged the country of 260 million to revise its decades-old blasphemy law.

"(Purnama's) prosecution showed non-Muslims and many Muslims that the freedoms of expression and religion in Indonesia are tenuous", New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

"Islamists will use it to bring wrongful prosecutions and even more discriminatory regulations against religious minorities".

The huge demonstrations calling for Purnama's jailing fuelled concerns about the growing influence of religious hardliners and that the Southeast Asian country's much-vaunted tolerant brand of Islam was under threat.

Indonesia's 1965 blasphemy law, article 156a of the Indonesian criminal code, punishes deviations from the central tenets of the six officially recognized religions, with up to five years in prison.

Supporters of former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, take a selfie in front of wreaths sent by well-wishers outside a police prison in Depok, Indonesia, on Thursday.

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