This is a sad day for Indonesia. Incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known by his nickname Ahok) was found guilty of blasphemy by the North Jakarta District Court and sentenced to two years in prison. After the verdict Ahok was immediately taken into custody, implying Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat now replaces Ahok until the end of his term in October 2017.
The two-year prison sentence that was handed to Ahok by the team of judges, led by Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, is a major surprise particularly because prosecutors had only demanded two years probation (and a one-year prison sentence in case Ahok would violate his probation) as they could not find any evidence of blasphemy.
The judges, however, found Ahok guilty of blasphemy when the latter said - in a speech late last year - voters should not be influenced by those people that use a specific Koranic verse to discourage people voting for a non-Muslim leader. An edited version of this speech (including a misleading introduction) started to surface on social media late last year and caused severe unrest. Jakarta Governor Ahok himself is a Christian of Chinese descent (which makes the matter more sensitive).
For hardline Muslims and political opponents the edited video and subsequent controversial court case was a great tool to damage Ahok's name and political aspirations. Several major demonstrations were organized on the streets of Jakarta between October 2016 and May 2017 in which Islamic hardliners urged the government to arrest Ahok. Hardliners' actions were fruitful. In the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, Ahok was defeated in the second, and final, round by Anies Baswedan, while Ahok had been comfortably leading the opinion polls prior to the emergence of the "hate-speech video".
Ahok and his defense team immediately announced they would appeal the verdict.
This verdict will be hard to explain to foreign investors. Ahok is regarded a high-quality leader who - unlike many of his predecessors - made great efforts to develop Jakarta, both in terms of infrastructure and social development. He is clean (meaning: non-corrupt) and reform-minded, both of which are badly needed to guide Indonesia's development into an advanced and just nation. However, the degree of religious and racial tolerance in Indonesia (and Jakarta specifically) is apparently too low. Therefore, this case shows that it will require a long time for Indonesia to become an advanced nation.
In Indonesia blasphemy cases always lead to prison sentences (we are not aware of a case in which the defendant was acquitted). This shows the high degree of sensitivity when it involves insulting religion but could also be caused by social pressures (if a defendant is acquitted in a blasphemy case, especially if it involves Islam, the judges may fear an uninvited visit from hardline Muslims at their house).
Poll Indonesia Investments:
What is your opinion about the judges' verdict in the Ahok case?
Voting possible: -
- I disagree, the sentence is much too harsh (91.7%)
- I have no opinion (4.8%)
- I agree completely with the judges (2.9%)
- I disagree, the sentence is too light (0.6%)
Total amount of votes: 312
Outrageous... you only need blasphemy laws when you are very, very insecure about your religion...
Voltaire (1694 - 1778 !!) the famous philosopher:
"La tolérance n'a jamais excité de guerre civile; l'intolérance a couvert la terre de carnage."