Christian governor of Jakarta sentenced to two years prison in blasphemy case

(Photo: REUTERS / Beawiharta)Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (L) poses beside Indonesia's President Joko Widodo after his swearing-in at the Presidential palace in Jakarta, November 19, 2014. Jakarta's first Christian governor in nearly 50 years was sworn in on Wednesday, despite protests from religious hardliners opposing a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia's most powerful political jobs.

Thousands of Indonesians gathered outside Cipinang prison in East Jakarta on May 9 to express solidarity with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama who, just hours earlier, had been serving as the governor of Jakarta but was sentenced to two years imprisonment for blasphemy.

Purnama, widely known by the nickname Ahok, was earlier sentenced by a court and taken to the prison for blasphemy, not the common crime of corruption, which is rife in Indonesia, The Washington Post reported.

Some protesters on May 9 were angry at the sentence and felt it was too lenient and the ethnic Chinese and Christian governor was taken into custody after the verdict was read out, Agence France-Presse reported.

Many in Jakarta believe the case against Purnama is politically motivated but near the court the atmosphere among the governor's critics - a coalition of Islamic groups - was one of anger, the BBC reported.

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Ahok was Jakarta's first Christian governor in decades and had suggested late last year that Jakarta's imams were misusing Quranic verses to discriminate against Christian candidates.

The remarks created a furor in Muslim-majority Indonesia, prompting huge rallies by Islamists opposed to Purnama and leading, eventually, a lopsided electoral defeat for him on April 19.

Purnama deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat will take over his duties until his term finishes in October.

HARSHER THAN EXPECTED SENTENCE

The sentence is harsher than most observers had expected and prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year sentence, the BBC reported.

The governor was "found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment," the judge told the court.

Security was tight as protesters and supporters gathered at the court in Jakarta and around 15,000 security personnel from the police and military are providing security at the scene, with riot police and armored vehicles separating rival groups.

Sofyan Tan, an ethnic Chinese Christian member of parliament from Medan, in North Sumatra province, said Islamist fury against Purnama reminded him of the time he ran for mayor of Medan but lost after a hate-filled campaign spearheaded by Muslim religious leaders, The Washington Post said.

"There was nothing weird about this," he said of the Islamist campaign against Purnama. "Racist attitudes are still with us."

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation and about 85 percent of its population are Muslim, but the country officially respects six religions.

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