Jakarta Governor Imprisoned for Blasphemy Against Islam Drops Appeal, Fearing Violence

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (2nd L), popularly known as 'Ahok', arrives at the court room before his trial for blasphemy at the North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta on December 13, 2016. Jakarta's Christian governor choked back tears on December 13 as he gave an impassioned defence against charges …

Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian more widely known by his nickname “Ahok,” said through his lawyers on Tuesday that he would withdraw his appeal against a blasphemy conviction that jailed him for two years for insulting Islam.

In a letter to supporters, read out loud at a news conference by his tearful wife Veronica Tan, Ahok gave thanks for prayers, gifts, and candlelight vigils from his supporters and said he understood it was not easy for them to accept his imprisonment.

“I have learned to forgive and accept all this,” he wrote.

Ahok said he was worried about more angry demonstrations and riots if he pursued his appeal, fearing “a loss to the citizens of Jakarta from congestion and economic losses caused by demonstrations that disrupt traffic,” as well as the possibility of “a clash with opponents.” Indonesian Muslims held huge, violent demonstrations after Ahok was accused of blasphemy, demanding his imprisonment or execution.

“Let us show that God is sovereign and in control of every nation’s history. Show that we are people who believe in One God, who must love our fellow human beings, must uphold the truth and justice for our fellow human beings,” Ahok urged in his letter.

He quoted chapter and verse from the Psalms to conclude with, “The Lord does not sleep. Put your hope in the Lord now and always. In my belief, I say, ‘The Lord will work out his plans for my life.’”

Ahok’s attorney, I Wayan Sudirta, said at the press conference that his client “likes to give in to things that are for the public interest.” He said the imprisoned former governor discussed his decision with his family and legal team before withdrawing his appeal.

Newsweek reports that one of the reasons the appeal was withdrawn was to give prosecutors more time to “appeal the sentence and calm protests.” The two-year jail term handed down by a judicial panel was much harsher than the one-year suspended sentence sought by prosecutors.

“We don’t want to intervene with the prosecution. They can go ahead,” said Sudirta.

Al-Jazeera notes that vigils have been held for Ahok by supporters not just in Jakarta, but in cities across Indonesia and the world, including Amsterdam, Toronto, and Melbourne.

On Monday, the United Nations urged Indonesia’s government to overturn the verdict against Ahok and repeal its blasphemy laws.

“Mr. Purnama’s blasphemy conviction and imprisonment will undermine freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech in Indonesia,” said a panel of U.N. human rights experts. “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.”


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