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Indonesia Sends Jakarta Governor to Prison for Blasphemy

Discriminatory Laws Put Religious Minorities at Risk

Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor and Chinese-ethnic minority, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also known as Ahok, arrives in court for his verdict in Jakarta, Indonesia May 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Indonesian authorities have invoked the country’s discriminatory blasphemy law to destroy the political career of former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and will now send him to prison. On Tuesday, a Jakarta court sentenced Ahok to a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy, making him exhibit A of the law’s dangers and the urgent need for its repeal.

Ahok, a Christian, was charged on November 16, 2016, for violating the blasphemy law in connection with a reference he made to a Quranic verse in September. Militant Islamist groups were successful in making Ahok’s blasphemy prosecution a centerpiece of efforts to defeat him in last month’s gubernatorial election, which Ahok lost. The 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. The blasphemy law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and traditional religions. Recent targets of the blasphemy law include three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community following the violent forced eviction of more than 7,000 members of the group from their homes on Kalimantan island last year. The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation has called for the repeal of the blasphemy law because of the threat it poses to the country’s religious minorities.

The blasphemy law also has been used as the legal basis for a number of government regulations that facilitate official discrimination on the basis of religion. These include a June 2008 government decree that ordered members of the Ahmadiyah religious community to cease all public religious activities on the grounds they deviated from the principal teachings of Islam and threatened violators with up to five years in prison.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo responded to Ahok’s conviction by urging the public to “to respect the existing legal process, as well as the verdict.” He should instead deliver on his pledges to promote religious pluralism in Indonesia and abolish the blasphemy law and other discriminatory regulations that threaten the country’s religious minorities.

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