Jakarta’s former governor ‘Ahok’, released from prison on 24 January. (Photo: Open Doors International)

Jakarta’s former governor, known widely and simply as “Ahok”, walked out of prison today, 24 January, after serving nearly two years for blasphemy.

He was granted early release, four months ahead of schedule, for good behavior. Outside prison in West-Java he was greeted by his eldest son and Nicholas and a group of supporters.

In a letter to his supporters last week, the Chinese Christian, whose real name is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, asked people not to come to prison to welcome him, out of concern “for the common good” and “for the sake of public order”, according to the Catholic news service UCAN.

“Ahok will finally be out of prison and reunited with his family, but he should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said earlier this week. “Ahok’s unjust conviction is a reminder that minorities in Indonesia are at risk so long as the abusive blasphemy law remains in place.”

Since 1968 more than 150 people have been imprisoned and at least six people were convicted under this law in 2018 alone, said the organisation.

Marked by mass protests

A Christian and ethnic Chinese, Ahok was charged with blasphemy in December 2016 while he was running for re-election as governor of Indonesia’s capital.

In May 2017 a court found him guilty of blasphemy based on a video that showed him accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to dissuade Muslims from voting for him.

The video turned out to be doctored by a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, who was found guilty of ‘hate speech’ and sent to prison in November 2017.

Despite the new evidence and the conviction of Buni Yani, an appeal by the former governor was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Ahok’s case was marked by mass protests by hard-line Islamic groups and seen as illustrative of the growing religious intolerance in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.