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Jakarta's Christian governor appeals blasphemy conviction

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(FILES) This file photo taken on May 9, 2017 shows Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, arriving at a courtroom for his verdict and sentence in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta. Jakarta’s jailed Christian governor on May 22 appealed his conviction for blaspheming Islam, his legal team said, as the United Nations stepped up pressure on Indonesia to overturn the controversial sentence. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Bay ISMOYO

Jakarta’s jailed Christian governor Monday appealed his conviction for blaspheming Islam, his legal team said, as the United Nations stepped up pressure on Indonesia to overturn the controversial sentence.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, was jailed for two years earlier this month for insulting the Koran, a shock decision that has undermined a reputation for religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Lawyers for Purnama, who is currently in detention, filed the appeal to the High Court in Jakarta. They believe the judges’ decision did not properly take into account testimony from defence witnesses, lawyer Ronny Talapessy told AFP

“The verdict not only stunned us and the prosecutors, the whole world was left in disbelief,” Talapessy said.

The lawyers also urged the court to release Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, on bail while his appeal is ongoing.

The sentence was widely criticised as too harsh after prosecutors had demanded that he be given just two years’ probation.

Prosecutors in the case have already filed an appeal against the decision to jail Purnama.

The appeal came as a group of UN human rights experts urged Indonesia to free the 50-year-old and repeal the country’s blasphemy laws, which critics say have been repeatedly used to target minorities.

“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,” said a statement from the experts, who included special rapporteurs on freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

Purnama was hauled into court last year to face trial for allegedly insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election, after the claims sparked major protests in Jakarta.

He offended Muslims after quoting a passage from the Koran, which he said his opponents were using to trick people into voting against him. Some interpret the verse as meaning Muslims should not vote for non-Muslim leaders.

Purnama had once been favourite to win last month’s Jakarta election but went on to lose to a Muslim challenger following the blasphemy claims.

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