“An outrageous miscarriage of justice,” says Christian human rights advocate
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (ANS – May 10, 2017) — The Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok,” has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. He will appeal the sentence.
Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said: “This verdict and the sentence imposed represent an outrageous miscarriage of justice. It also represents a further, and severe, erosion of Indonesia’s values of religious pluralism as set out in the Pancasila, the state ideology.
“Indonesia’s ability to hold itself up as an example of a moderate, tolerant, Muslim-majority democracy is further threatened and is now very questionable. We urge the courts to overturn this verdict on appeal and acquit Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.”
As a Chinese Christian, Ahok is Indonesia’s most prominent ethnic minority politician and was the first non-Muslim governor of Jakarta for over 50 years. His campaign for re-election was overshadowed by the blasphemy allegation against him and he lost the vote last month.
His troubles began when, on September 27, 2016, Ahok reportedly quoted a Qur’anic verse on the campaign trail while addressing concerns that his political opponents may use the verse to discourage people from voting for him as a non-Muslim. He was then falsely accused of criticizing the verse itself. The court case against the governor was filed by several conservative Islamic groups after his statement went viral via a doctored YouTube video.
On November 13, 2016, he was formally charged with blasphemy and his trial began on December 13, 2016. An estimated 500,000 Muslims turned up to a number of rallies in November and December 2016 to protest against his supposed blasphemy.
“Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, yet it rejected theocracy at its foundation and adopted a state philosophy known as ‘Pancasila,’ giving equal recognition to the major religions,” said a spokesperson CSW (http://www.csw.org.uk/). “CSW believes that the case against Ahok is part of a broader attempt to undermine the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in the country.”
The sentence handed down by the North Jakarta District Court was even stiffer than the one requested by Indonesian state prosecutors, who asked for a suspended sentence for outgoing Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
“Jakarta, Indonesia, had a rare and beautiful thing in their country – a Christian governor,” evangelical preacher Franklin Graham said in response to the trial.
The governor, he commented, “was known for his honest and capable governance, but Islam wants domination, and they wanted him politically out of the picture.”
Graham, the son of Dr. Billy Graham, is hosting a World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington this week, an event drawing hundreds of participants from some 130 countries. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to address the summit tomorrow (Thursday, May 10, 2017).
According to Patrick Goodenough of CNSNews.com, sentencing came four days after radical Islamists marched to the Supreme Court to demand a heavy sentence for Purnama. The governor’s detractors have been demanding his imprisonment – and even his execution – ever since a remark on the campaign trail last fall was interpreted by some Muslims as blasphemous.
The claims, he said, triggered massive street protests, and are widely thought responsible for Purnama’s defeat to a Muslim challenger in elections last month. The remainder of his term was to have ended in October, but he was taken into custody immediately and his deputy will serve out the term.
A State Department official late Tuesday said the administration opposes blasphemy laws universally.
“While we respect Indonesia’s democratic institutions, we uniformly oppose blasphemy laws anywhere in the world as they jeopardize fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of religion and expression,” the official said.
“We encourage Indonesian efforts to uphold the freedoms of religion and speech, which are important facets of its pluralistic democracy.”
Purnama, who says he will appeal, has denied the charges throughout.
Campaigning last September, he reportedly told voters that they were being lied to by people who were misquoting a verse from the Qur’an to back their argument that Muslims should not be ruled by non-Muslims. (Eighty-five percent of Jakarta’s residents are Muslims.)
His accusers claimed he had suggested it was the Qur’an itself that was wrong, although Purnama insists his target was not the Islamic scripture but those who misinterpreted it for political ends.
(The verse, Qur’an 5:51, reads in part, “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies.”)
Goodenough added: “Indonesia’s official state ideology, ‘Pancasila,’ entails the five principles of belief in God, national unity, just and civilized humanity, representative democracy and social justice.
“Under that system, the state officially recognizes not just Islam but also Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
“Religious freedom advocates have warned of a rise in religious extremism and a culture of intolerance in recent years, with churches being forcibly closed and religious minorities coming under attack.
“Two significant mainstream Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, claim some 100 million followers between them, but other much smaller groups advocate a more radical stance. One of them, the Islamic Defenders Front, spearheaded the protests against Purnama.”
Photo captions: 1) Adoptive sister Nana Riwayatie comforts Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama at the start of his trial.(The Weekend Australian by Amanda Hodge). 2) Huge rally against the governor. (Source: Antara/Akbar Nugroho Gumay). 3) Franklin Graham. 4) Ahok campaigning in Jatinegara, Jakarta, November 15, 2016 (Jakarta Post / Dhoni Setiawan). 5) Dan Wooding with Dr, Garry Ansdell as they present “Windows on the World.”
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Besides running the ASSIST News Service, Dan has written some 45 books and hosts a weekly radio show and two TV programs in Southern California. He has recently reported twice from Jakarta, when he travelled there with Dr. Garry Ansdell, co-founder of Ambassadors for Peace (am4peace.com), and met and interviewed many religious leaders from Indonesia. Dan and Garry co-host the TV show, “Windows on the World,” which is carried around the world on the Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network (http://hsbn.tv).
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