‘Rot at the Core’: Blasphemy Verdict in Indonesia Dismays Legal Experts – The New York Times

More on the arrest and trial of the jailed Christian governor of Jakarta:

Legal experts noted that the verdict seemed to be based more on public reaction to the governor’s comments than what he had actually said, in effect holding him accountable for the mass protests organized against him by hard-line Islamist groups.

“That’s the problem with the blasphemy law,” said Bivitri Susanti, head of the Jakarta chapter of Indonesia’s Association of Constitutional Law Lecturers. “It’s not about the speech itself and whether it’s condemning Islam itself. It’s about whether society believes it’s wrong or annoys them.”

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was convicted on Tuesday for comments he made in September challenging Muslim hard-liners who argued that a verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim. Mr. Basuki said those who made that argument were misleading Muslims, a statement interpreted by some as insulting the Quran and Islam.

Mass rallies were organized calling for his arrest, with some zealots demanding that the governor be put to death. Many analysts said that the protests had been orchestrated by his political rivals and that they were a strong factor in his 16-point defeat in last month’s election.

The verdict by the five-judge panel hearing his case repeatedly said that Mr. Basuki, known as Ahok, had caused public unrest and offended the Muslim majority, citing an article in the decades-old blasphemy law banning “words that degrade, harass or insult a religion.”

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said the decision “underscored the rot at the core of the Indonesian legal system” and would further polarize the country.

“It isn’t the first time Indonesian judges showed no concern for evidence in a high-profile case, but it could be one of the most damaging,” Ms. Jones wrote in a commentary for the Lowy Institute. “It instantly sent a signal that non-Muslims are lesser citizens.”

Photo

Police officers outside Cipinang Penitentiary in Jakarta, where Mr. Basuki was first taken and which houses violent criminals. He was transferred to a city police detention facility on Wednesday for security reasons. CreditMast Irham/European Pressphoto Agency

“I believe that the street protests influenced the judges’ ruling,” Ms. Bivitri said. “You can really see in the decision, that instead of using other articles, they are using one about condemning religion.”

Experts also expressed concern about the motive for the seemingly vindictive two-year prison sentence. The prosecutors had asked for two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared Mr. Basuki prison time.

In explaining the sentence, the judges said they determined that the governor “did not feel guilty” about his comments.

“The judges didn’t think Ahok apologized enough,” said Melissa Crouch, a senior law lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Mr. Basuki apologized publicly months ago for any offense caused, but he has steadfastly denied that he insulted the Quran or committed blasphemy.

On Wednesday, he was transferred to a city police detention facility for security reasons, officials said.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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