The family of the jailed Christian governor of Jakarta has withdrawn its appeal to have him released. The announcement came as the UN called on the country to do away with its blasphemy laws.
A group of UN experts on Monday released a statement calling for the release of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok,” arguing that his arrest violates basic civil liberties.
“Mr. Purnama’s blasphemy conviction and imprisonment will undermine freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech in Indonesia,” the statement said.
The 50-year-old Purnama was jailed on May 9 for a longer-than-expected two years after being found guilty of insulting the Koran. Purnama was “found guilty to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment,” presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said.
The verdict came as a shock to many, as prosecutors had originally asked for a one-year suspended sentence. One judge on the panel said they handed down a harsher sentence because Purnama “didn’t feel guilt” and that his comments “caused unrest in society and wounded the feelings of Muslims.”
Outrage from Muslim community
The experts’ statement came the same day Purnama’s family made the unexpected decision to withdraw their appeal of the verdict.
“After a lengthy discussion we the family decided to withdraw the appeal,” said Purnama’s sister Fifi Lety Indra, who is also one of his lawyers. They had submitted the appeal only hours before.
The controversy ignited while Purnama was seeking re-election, when he charged his opponents of lying to the public by saying the Koran prohibited them for voting for someone who wasn’t Muslim. The comments led to calls from the country’s Muslim community for Purnama to be prosecuted.
Christians make up 10 percent of Indonesia’s population, which is predominantly Muslim. There are 250 million people in the country in total.
blc/se (Reuters, dpa, AFP)