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Indonesia: Ex-Jakarta Governor Drops Appeal of Blasphemy Sentence

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta
2017-05-23
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Veronica Tan (third from left), wife of Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, accompanied by a team of lawyers and family members in Jakarta, tells reporters why her husband withdrew an appeal against his blasphemy conviction, May 23, 2017.
Veronica Tan (third from left), wife of Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, accompanied by a team of lawyers and family members in Jakarta, tells reporters why her husband withdrew an appeal against his blasphemy conviction, May 23, 2017.
Arie Firdaus/BenarNews

Former Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama will not appeal his two-year sentence on a blasphemy conviction, his wife told a news conference Tuesday while reading a letter from the jailed leader who said he had accepted the verdict for the nation’s sake.

The move by Ahok, a member of Indonesia’s Christian and ethnic Chinese minority, was surprising because many observers had expected him to challenge his conviction and sentencing on May 9, in a case widely seen as skewed against him. The court convicted him on a blasphemy charge, even though the prosecution, which is appealing the ruling, had dropped that charge against Ahok, citing insufficient evidence.

Reading a handwritten letter from Ahok, his wife, Veronica Tan, briefly went silent. Ahok’s sister, Fifi Lefy Indra, and one of his lawyers rubbed Tan’s back to comfort her until she was able to regain her composure and resume her statement.

“I know it’s not easy for you to accept this reality, let alone me ...,” Tan read, her voice shaking.

Ahok has been held at the Mobile Brigade Command detention center in Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java, since he was sentenced by the North Jakarta District Court two weeks ago.

He wrote the letter on Sunday, a day before he officially withdrew his appeal.

“I have learned to forgive and accept all this, for the sake of our people and nation,”Ahok wrote. “It is not right to protest against each other in the process I am going through now.”

In its 630-page decision, the five-judge panel said Ahok committed criminal blasphemy when he told an audience in September 2016 that it should not be deceived by people citing a verse from the Quran, which some interpret as meaning that Muslims should not have a non-Muslim leader.

The verdict ended a six-month trial that 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. Last month, he was defeated in a run-off by a Muslim candidate who rode a wave of anti-Ahok religious fervor.

During his trial in December, Ahok apologized for his remarks, saying he had never intended to offend Muslims, noting that he had been raised by adoptive Muslim parents.

Concern for supporters

The Chinese Christian leader wrote about his concern that rallies organized by his supporters could potentially be infiltrated by people who meant him harm and he did not want his supporters to clash with them. He went on to thank supporters for their prayers and for the food and flowers they sent to him.

Since May 9, supporters have held rallies seeking justice for Ahok, including a series of candlelight vigils in Indonesia and by citizens in other nations.

“Gusti ora sare (God doesn’t sleep). Put your faith in the Lord, now and always. In my faith I say the Lord will work out his plan for my life,” Ahok said.

Court actions

Despite Ahok’s action, an appeal of his conviction continues.  Prosecutors, who had called for a lighter sentence of two years’ probation followed by one year in jail if he committed a new offense, have already filed a request for the court to review the case.

“Until today’s deadline, nothing has been changed from the prosecutors’ perspective,” North Jakarta District Court spokesman Hasoloan Sianturi told BenarNews on Tuesday.

“So the case will continue to the appeal level. Tomorrow, we will submit the case to be filed to Jakarta High Court,” Hasoloan said.

The prosecutors’ appeal claims the court erred in sentencing Ahok for blasphemy, and that it should have sentenced him for the lesser offense of conveying feelings of hostility, hatred or humiliation to any or several groups.

Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo said he would review the prosecution’s appeal, but said he considered Ahok’s withdrawal an acknowledgment of guilt.

“With Ahok dismissing the appeal, by jurisdiction, he admitted that he is wrong. The prosecutors should conduct a review on the relevance and urgency of the legal appeal,” he said, according to Tempo.co.

Ahok lawyer I Wayan Sudirta said he would not challenge the prosecution’s action.

“Please go ahead,” he told BenarNews.

“We do not want to intervene,” he said, adding that his team was focusing on submitting a request to have Ahok’s sentence suspended.

He said the court had not presented a clear explanation for why Ahok was jailed. At sentencing, the court ordered him to prison immediately.

“So we will file for the suspension of his sentence. It is up to the high court to decide whether Ahok will be a city prisoner or a house arrestee,” he said.

Wayan was reluctant to comment about the possibility of asking President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for clemency. Ahok served as deputy when Jokowi was governor of Jakarta before being elected president.

“Pak Basuki (Ahok) will decide when the time comes,” Wayan said.

Meanwhile, Tan continued to back her husband.

“My children and I support him to go through this,” she said at the end of the press conference. “Our family feels this is fine for us. We will not go further.”

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