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Indonesia jails Purnama, Christian governor for Islamic blasphemy

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Basuki Tjahaja Purnama a.k.a Ahok being taken to jail

In a shock decision, an Indonesian court jailed today Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of Jakarta, the  capital,  after being found guilty of blasphemy against Islam.

Purnama was jailed for two years, stoking  concerns over rising religious intolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Islamic hardliners outside the Jakarta court cheered and shouted “God is greatest!” as news came through that Purnama was to be sent to prison, a surprisingly harsh punishment after prosecutors recommended only probation.

Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, looked calm when the verdict was announced and said he would appeal, as some of his supporters in court burst into tears.

The governor was taken to a Jakarta prison after the verdict but it was unclear whether he would remain in jail or be released later to allow him to file his appeal.

The governor was hauled into court last year to face trial on charges of insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election, in a case critics said was politically motivated.

The trial came after a series of major protests in the capital against the leader, known by his nickname Ahok, that drew hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

His once unassailable opinion poll lead shrank amid the controversy and he lost the race to lead Jakarta last month to a Muslim challenger, a result that fuelled fears Indonesia’s moderate brand of Islam is coming under threat from increasingly influential radicals.

The five-judge panel at the Jakarta court found Purnama guilty of blasphemy after a months-long trial.

Announcing the verdict, presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said Purnama was “convincingly guilty of committing blasphemy and is sentenced to two years in prison” and ordered him to be detained.

– ‘He has insulted us’ –

Blasphemy carries a maximum jail term of five years in Indonesia but the verdict was a surprise as judges in the country typically follow the recommendation of prosecutors in criminal cases.

Prosecutors last month urged judges to hand Purnama two years of probation, with a possible one-year jail term if he committed a crime during that period.

Outside the court, hundreds of Islamic radicals wearing white Muslim skullcaps celebrated as they heard about the jail sentence.

“Thank God, he should be jailed — this is right. He has insulted us,” Bachtiar, 38, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the decision would damage the country’s reputation internationally as a bastion of tolerant Islam.

“It’s another big step in the slow decline of religious freedom in Indonesia,” he told AFP.

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