The Christian governor of Jakarta wept in Court on Tuesday during a blasphemy trail that saw him sentenced to two years in jail in a case that has undermined Indonesia’s reputation for practising a moderate form of Islam.
Governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, said he would appeal against the guilty verdict and sentence.
The five-judge panel said he was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy” and ordered his arrest.
Governor Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, stands accused of insulting Islam in September after he urged voters not to believe religious leaders who used a specific verse in the Quran to claim that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims.
The lead judge, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said his comment had degraded and insulted Islam.
“As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions including the religion of the defendant himself,” he said.
Purnama has apologised for the statements, which inflamed public anger. Whilst in court, he reiterated the point that his comments were directed at politicians “incorrectly” using the verse and denied any intention to offend.
“As a person who grew up in Islamic circles, it is not possible for me to insult Islam,” he said, emphasising his respect for Islam.
Purnama, a Christian and member of the country’s ethnic Chinese minority, is somewhat of an unusual case in the country in that he is the first non-Muslim leader of Indonesia’s sprawling capital, Jakarta, in over 50 years.
The trial was exclusively a criminal one and the court disagreed that the case had “political aspects.”
The two-year prison sentence came as a shock to many in the country as prosecutors originally recommended a two-year suspended sentence.
The maximum sentence for blasphemy in Muslim-majority Indonesia is five years in prison.
Islamist groups in the country, whose supporters gathered outside the courtroom, had demanded the maximum penalty possible be handed to Purnama on the basis that his comments had insulted the Quran.
Analysts claim that Islamist groups, which orchestrated various large-scale protests against Purnama as he sought re-election, played a decisive impact on the outcome of the election.