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)

A first appeal hearing in the blasphemy case of the Christian former governor of Jakarta was held today (26 February) in what could prove his only chance to challenge the verdict.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as “Ahok”, has asked the Supreme Court for a review of the two-year prison sentence he received in May 2017. He was convicted on the basis of a video in which he argued against use of the Quran for political purposes – comments for which he was later adjudged to have committed blasphemy.

Since the former governor went directly to the Supreme Court, it “could be Ahok’s last chance to overturn his conviction”, explained Moses Ompusunggu for the Jakarta Post, as the number of reviews by the court is limited.

After today’s hearing at the North Jakarta District Court, which lasted only ten minutes, Ahok’s lawyer and sister, Fifi Lety Indra, told reporters the basis of the appeal was the conviction in November last year of Buni Yani, a communications professor from Jakarta.

Yani was found guilty of tampering with the video on which Ahok appeared. The video caused widespread unrest in the Muslim-majority nation and a turning of public opinion against Ahok who, at that time, was running for re-election.

Ahok’s supporters shout slogans outside the North Jakarta District Court, where the first appeal hearing took place today, Monday 26 February, 2018. (Photo: Agoes Rudianto /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

“The legal argument for our petition is that the judges [at the district level] made a mistake in their verdict [on Ahok], particularly in relation to Buni Yani’s verdict,” Ahok’s sister explained.

The prosecutors, who will have a chance to respond in two to three days, maintained that the two cases were not connected and that Yani’s conviction did not constitute “new evidence”.

Once both parties have been heard, the case will be forwarded to the Supreme Court, which will then decide whether or not to review the case.

“Ahok was guilty of blasphemy, while Buni Yani was guilty of tampering with a video that was not his,” one of the prosecutors, Sapta Subrata, said. “The evidence in Buni Yani’s case is part of a speech cited by Buni Yani, it was not used as evidence in Ahok’s trial.”

Abdul Fickar Hadjar, a criminal law expert from Trisakti University in Jakarta, told the Jakarta Post also that “the decision [on Yani] had yet to be declared final and binding”, as Yani is also considering an appeal.

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

Since his sentencing in May last year, Ahok has been held at the Police’s Mobile Brigade Command Headquarters in West Java. He is due to be released in May 2019, but could be released earlier if remissions are taken into account.