JAKARTA (Reuters) – Jakarta’s Christian governor was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday, a harsher than expected ruling in a trial that was seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
The guilty verdict comes amid concern about the growing influence of Islamist groups, who organized mass demonstrations during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama losing his bid for another term as governor.
President Joko Widodo was an ally of Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian who is popularly known as “Ahok”, and the verdict will be a blow to a government that has sought to quell radical groups and soothe investors’ concerns that the country’s secular values were at risk.
As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the south Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment.”
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance and for minorities.
“If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country’s largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?,” Harsono said.