Jakarta's Christian Governor Imprisoned for Blaspheming Quran is Freed

( [email protected] ) Jan 25, 2019 12:01 PM EST
Nearly two years after he was imprisoned for blaspheming Islam, former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - better known as "Ahok - walked free.
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

Nearly two years after he was imprisoned for blaspheming Islam, former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - better known as "Ahok - walked free.

In May 2017, Ahok was jailed after a Jakarta court found him guilty of blasphemy against Islam. He was sentenced to two years' jail but was released early after remission, totaling 3½ months, for good behavior. He walked free from the high-security Mako Brimob detention facility in Depok, West Java, early Thursday morning.

"Basuki Tjahaja Purnama got out of the (detention center) around 7.30am," his secretary Ima Mahdiah said in a message to journalists. She added that he was picked up by his son Nicholas Sean and representatives of the "BTP team" - a group of close supporters who manage his social media accounts, among others.

Shortly after his father's release, Nicholas Sean posted on Instagram a photo of them together, saying: "He's back. My dad's a free man! Thank you everyone for the support."

Ahok, who in a recent letter from prison asked his supporters to refer to him by his initials "BTP" rather than his Chinese nickname - was Jakarta's first Christian and ethnic Chinese governor since the 1960s.

Ahok was charged with blasphemy in September 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Qur'anic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta's governor. Muslim hardliners incited the people against him, mostly through social media, leading to a series of massive protests that called for his arrest.

One day after 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, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him to a one-year suspended jail sentence, but on 9 May the court ruled against this and sent him to prison for two years.

The jailing of the former governor was widely condemned by rights groups, with the United Nations calling on the Indonesian government to repeal the country's blasphemy laws which they said undermined religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation.

"We urge the government to overturn Mr Purnama's sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately," UN experts said in a statement.

Still, in a recent letter posted on his official Instagram account, Ahok said he would serve his time all over again.

"If we could go back in time and someone asked which would you choose [Going to prison or winning the election] I would say I choose to be imprisoned at Mako to study for two years, so that I could maintain self-discipline for the rest of my life," he wrote, "If I were re-elected, I would have become more arrogant, rough, and I would have hurt people."

Following his release, reports speculate Ahok plans to become a consultant to local governments, helping them to navigate the country's electronic budgeting system, and wed his girlfriend, a 21-year-old policewoman named Puput Nastiti Devi.

Tags : Jakarta, Indonesia, Ahok, Muslim, Islam, Christian