Jakarta’s former governor 'Ahok' has appealed his prison sentence. (Photo: Open Doors International)
Jakarta’s former governor ‘Ahok’ has appealed his prison sentence. (Photo: Open Doors International)

The Christian former Governor of Jakarta has appealed his blasphemy conviction to Indonesia’s Supreme Court

A court spokesman said on 20 February that it had received a request for judicial review from Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced in May 2017 in connection with a video in which he is heard to speak against use of the Quran for political purposes. Ahok’s attorney, Josefina A. Suykur, submitted the petition to the court on 2 February, according to The Jakarta Post.

The case is scheduled to be heard on Monday (26 February), with a second hearing the following week by the North Jakarta District Court, which will then forward the case and dossier to the Supreme Court.

Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for alleged blasphemy by the North Jakarta District Court in May 2017 and since then has been held at the Police’s Mobile Brigade Command headquarters in Depok, West Java.

One of the lawyers involved with his blasphemy case, I Wayan Sudirta, told The Australian newspaper Ahok “believes he is innocent and will fight for it”.

Guilty of hate speech

Although the former governor initially said he would not appeal the verdict as he was concerned about the long-term results of a drawn-out appeal process, Sudirta said his legal team has been considering filing a review for many months, especially after a court in November found a key figure behind Ahok’s jailing guilty of hate speech.

The convict, Buni Yani, admitted to having doctored a video in which the then-governor was shown warning voters against people using Quranic verses for political gain. The edited video went viral and sparked online protests and street demonstrations, and turned public opinion against Ahok who, at that time, was running for re-election.

Prosecutors in the case against Yani had hoped to present Ahok as a witness against him, but one of Ahok’s lawyers, Rolas Sitinjak, said the prison authorities prevented this, saying Ahok was being held too far from the trial and was in poor health. His lawyers felt that Yani’s sentencing showed Ahok should not have been jailed at all.

Sudirta told The Australian the former governor refrained from filing an appeal following Yani’s conviction because “he was sure … [this] would only aggravate the situation. He is a very [calculating] man. He knew that filing a case review when the time is right was the better option”.

‘The nation can be more divided’

A hard-line Muslim group, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which was involved in leading major protests in Jakarta during Ahok’s trial, called on the court to turn aside the former governor’s appeal.

“The nation can be more divided,” the group’s leader, Novel Bakmumin, said, according to Bernar News, referring to the upcoming regional elections and the 2019 presidential election. “This is a sensitive issue of religious defamation that could offend Muslims.”

The FPI has been involved in politics since 2009 and its members are sometimes called “pasukan nasi bungkus”, meaning “people who are paid to participate in a demonstration”.

Meanwhile, The North Jakarta District Court is also involved with divorce mediation after Ahok filed for divorce from his wife of 20 years, Victoria Tan, on 5 January because of her alleged infidelity.