To us it came as a surprise to learn this morning that former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as Ahok) decided not to appeal against his controversial blasphemy conviction earlier this month when the Jakarta Court found him guilty of insulting Islam and therefore sentenced him to two years in prison, a case that is regarded a setback for Indonesian pluralism and religious tolerance.
In a press conference on Tuesday (23/05) Ahok's wife, Veronica Tan, announced the decision not to appeal, implying Christian, ethnic Chinese Ahok accepts the two-year prison sentence. It is a sudden and unexpected decision. In fact, immediately after the Jakarta Court's verdict on 9 May 2017, Ahok said he would appeal. However, after two weeks of contemplating Ahok decided to accept his two-year sentence for the sake of Jakarta's safety and stability (an extension to the case, let alone the possible scrapping of the verdict, would encourage more hardline Muslim to go protesting on the streets of Jakarta). Although it is a noble sacrifice (that may win him a Nobel peace prize), all his supporters - who have been staging demonstrations across the world to protest against the verdict - will surely feel disappointed.
But there remains a (small) chance Ahok will not have to be in prison for the next two years. Last week prosecution also said it would appeal against the verdict because they consider it too harsh (this decision is based on standard operating procedures). While prosecutors only recommended two-year probation (and a one-year prison sentence if Ahok would violate the terms), the judges handed Ahok a two-year prison sentence, and not on hate speech charges (as recommended by prosecution) but on blasphemy (prosecution dropped the blasphemy charges on lack of evidence). Apparently, the massive demonstrations in Jakarta (between November 2016 and May 2017), organized by hardline Muslims, put enough pressure on the judges (while bribes are also not uncommon in Indonesia's judicial domain).
However, considering Ahok withdrew his appeal, it is not unimaginable that Jakarta's prosecution also decides to withdraw its appeal, implying the verdict remains legally binding.
Meanwhile, the United Nations urge Indonesian President Joko Widodo to release Ahok from jail and scrap the country's blasphemy laws as they undermine freedom of expression and form a tool to repress minority religions or streams in Indonesia. In a statement UN experts say "instead of speaking out against hate speech by the leaders of the protests, the Indonesian authorities appear to have appeased incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination".
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