Jakarta's Ahok Serves Prison Sentence with Bible as His Only Companion

As outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, serves his two-year jail sentence, the Bible is his only companion.
Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor and Chinese-ethnic minority, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also known as Ahok, arrives at court for his verdict in Jakarta, Indonesia. May 9, 2017. Reuters/Pool

As outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, serves his two-year jail sentence, the Bible is his only companion.

Ahok is being held at a high-security police facility in Depok, located on the outskirts of Jakarta. His sister, Fifi Lety Indra, said the Bible was the only book Ahok brought with him when he was taken to prison.

"He loves reading his Bible. He has it with him and he can pray whenever he wants," she said, according to Reuters.

While he serves his two-year jail sentence, Ahok will have no access to television or phone. However, he is allowed two visits of two hours each every week.

On Tuesday, the Indonesian court found Ahok guilty of blasphemy and ordered his immediate arrest. The governor was taken to Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta, which is notorious for holding drug offenders and Islamist militants.

However, his supporters flocked to the area, blocking the traffic. Some of them also tried to bring down a prison fence. Additionally, while in Cipinang prison, Ahok constantly faced threats to his life from Muslim prisoners want to kill him. 

Because of these factors, the authorities transferred him to the high-security police compound in Depok. His sister said the transfer was a welcome decision.

"The religious people have been saying in the mosques that his blood is haram (forbidden) and that killing him is good," Indra said.  "This is necessary protection and it gives us peace and comfort that he's there."

"I can say he's being treated very well and humanely. We are very grateful for that," she added.

On their mother's birthday, they brought her to Depok so she could visit Ahok.

"We met him in prison with our Muslim siblings, we hugged, we cried," she said. "The whole thing happened so fast."

Ahok was Jakarta's first Christian governor in 50 years. He rose to the position when Pres. Joko Widodo vacated the post in 2014. Within his term, Ahok took on two of Jakarta's persistent problems: flooding and traffic.

Residents appeared to be satisfied with his performance, making him the leading contender last year for the April gubernatorial election. However, his opponents tried to persuade Muslim voters that voting for him would be going against the teachings of the Quran.

In September, his opponents accused him of blasphemy for reportedly using a verse from the Quran and telling a group of fishermen that they should vote according to their conviction.

Muslim hardliners incited the people against him, mostly through social media, leading to a series of massive protests that called for his arrest.

Last month, Ahok lost the election to Anies Baswedan in what local media referred to as the "the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive" election in Indonesia.

After his defeat, the prosecution no longer pushed for a five-year jail term and recommended that, if he is found guilty, he should instead be given a two-year probation during which the jail term would be suspended. If he would not commit any crime within the two-year probationary period, he could skip jail term altogether.

However, the decision handed down by the court on Tuesday was harsher than expected, a possible indication of Islam's growing influence in politics in the supposedly religiously tolerant Indonesia.

Ahok's legal team, headed by Indra, will appeal his prison sentence. 

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