Former Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted for blaspheming Islam, may be released in January after getting a Christmas sentence reduction, an Indonesian corrections official said Tuesday.
Ahok, a member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, has been serving his sentence at the Mobile Brigade Police headquarters in Depok, south of the capital Jakarta, after he was found guilty in May 2017. Officials said he did not serve time in a regular prison due to security concerns.
“If he gets a one-month sentence cut on Christmas, he is expected to be free on Jan. 24, 2019,” said Ade Kusmanto, spokesman for the Law and Human Rights Ministry’s directorate-general of corrections.
Ade said Ahok’s attorney had filed a Christmas remission application for the former governor.
“We are considering the proposal and can grant it if Ahok consistently adheres to the rules and behaves well,” Ade told BenarNews, adding that a decision on granting a petition to slash his sentence would be made by the corrections office on Dec. 25, Christmas Day.
Generally, inmates who behave well get sentence cuts on Indonesia’s national day, Aug. 17, and on major religious holidays. Ahok has so far received three and a half months in sentence cuts, Ade said.
In 2016, Muslim groups started holding large protests to demand Ahok be tried for blasphemy after a video and an incomplete quote attributed to him posted on Facebook made it appear like he was saying that the Quran deceived people.
Many political analysts saw Ahok’s conviction as skewed against him. The court convicted him of blasphemy, even though the prosecution had dropped that charge, citing insufficient evidence.
Ahok’s six-month trial in 2017 took place in the heat of a gubernatorial race in Jakarta and amid a series of massive street demonstrations staged by conservative Muslim groups who clamored for the governor to be ousted from office.
He lost a runoff vote to former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, despite being the initial favorite in a three-way, first-round race.
Ahok’s attorney, I Wayan Sudirta, said his client was in good health.
“Pak Ahok has become more patient. His emotions are sound and he is forgiving,” said Wayan Sudirta, using the Bahasa Indonesian honorific for “father.”
“The point is he’s become a better person, better physically and mentally,” he told BenarNews.
Wayan declined to say what Ahok was planning to do after his release.
There have been local media reports that he might join the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
An aide to Ahok, Ima Mahdiah, said he had received invitations to speak in parts of the country, as well as overseas.
“[He will talk] about his life experience and his time as governor,” she said.