After poll defeat, Jakarta's Christian governor may escape jail
Jakarta's Christian governor may escape jail for alleged blasphemy after prosecutors Thursday recommended only probation, a day after he lost in a religiously charged run-off that damaged Indonesia's image as a bastion of tolerant Islam. The recommendation of two years probation in the trial of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, with a possible one-year jail term if he commits a crime during that period, was lighter than expected as he could have been sent to prison for several years. The sentence demand for allegedly insulting Islam came after he was defeated Wednesday by Muslim challenger Anies Baswedan who was accused of pandering to hardliners to win votes in the race for the Jakarta governorship. After his victory, former government minister Baswedan celebrated with Islamic hardliners who helped organise mass protests in the capital against the governor by praying at a major mosque. The blasphemy allegations and Purnama's subsequent poll loss have sparked fears that pluralistic traditions in the world's most populous Muslim country are under threat from the influence of hardliners, who pushed for the governor's prosecution. Chief prosecutor Ali Mukartono recommended that Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, be found guilty of blasphemy and be given two years probation, with a possible one-year jail sentence. He said a light sentence was being recommended as Purnama had contributed to "advancing the city of Jakarta" and had acted politely during his trial. - Hardline anger - "If within the two years, Ahok doesn't commit any new criminal act, like corruption, stealing... he will be free," his lawyer I Wayan Sudirta told AFP. "If within that two years he does commit a criminal act, he has to serve the one-year jail sentence." A sentence recommendation is a normal step in an Indonesian court case, and is usually followed within weeks by a verdict. The controversy began in September when Purnama, known for his outspoken style, outraged Muslims when he controversially quoted a passage from the Islamic holy text ahead of elections for the Jakarta governorship. He insinuated that his opponents had used a Koranic verse to trick people into voting against him. An edited version of his speech went viral online, sparking outrage far beyond Jakarta, where Purnama has ruled since his predecessor Joko Widodo became president in late 2014. The governor apologised but Indonesia's highest clerical body declared the remarks blasphemous and urged authorities to bring charges Before the blasphemy controversy erupted, Purnama enjoyed a large opinion poll lead due to his determination to clean up traffic-clogged, polluted Jakarta. The trial started in December and dragged on for months, with both the prosecution and defence calling more than 40 witnesses. Purnama's team have accused the prosecution of calling biased witnesses, saying that many were not even present when the alleged blasphemy took place. Critics want the country’s blasphemy laws overhauled. The legislation was rarely used during the 32-year rule of strongman Suharto, but in recent years it has been exploited to persecute minorities, rights groups say.