Governor sentenced to prison for blaspheming Islam

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday urged all parties to respect the verdict of a court which jailed Jakarta's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, for two years for blasphemy.

As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the south Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was "found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment".

"This decision places that position in jeopardy and raises concerns about Indonesia's future as an open, tolerant, diverse society", said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama sits on the defendant's chair as he attends his sentencing hearing in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

By early evening, hundreds of angry supporters had gathered at the high-security prison, some pushing hard against a tall metal gate and others setting a tire alight. Islamic groups who oppose him say they will push for a harsher sentence.

Purnama, the first Christian to lead Jakarta in 50 years, is seen by supporters as an effective administrator in a bureaucracy long plagued by corruption and incompetence.

Prosecutors in the case had called for a suspended one-year jail term on charges of hate speech.

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The maximum penalty for blasphemy in Muslim-majority Indonesia is five years in prison.

Governor "Ahok" Purnama was charged with blasphemy a year ago after footage emerged of him at a political rally claiming that some Muslims have misinterpreted a verse in the Quran which suggests Muslims should not be ruled over by people from other religions.

Throughout the trial, Mr Purnama denied wrongdoing, but did apologise for his comments nonetheless.

Purnama lost his bid for re-election to Muslim rival Anies Baswedan in April. He is due to hand over to Baswedan in October. Prosecutors recommended one-year prison if Ahok violates his probation.

Analysts claim that radical Islamist groups that rallied against Ahok significantly contributed to the outcome of the decision.

Rights group fear Islamist hardliners are in the ascendant in a country where most Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam and which is home to sizable communities of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and people who adhere to traditional beliefs.

The Indonesian government has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to protect religious minorities. Others say that his comments were exploited in an effort to incite ethnic and religious hatred against Ahok.

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