Civil Society Groups Call For Changes To The Blasphemy Law That Convicted Ahok

Civil Society Groups Call For Changes To The Blasphemy Law That Convicted Ahok

The ruling against the Christian governor causes tensions and controversy. The blasphemy is a pretext used to exert social and political pressure on opponents. The court failed to exert its independence, said Surya Chandra.  “Article 156a of the Criminal Code article is elastic,” Antonius Yudo said. “Any opinion or claim other than that of the majority and not in accordance with the dictates of the Islamic Council of Ulema (MUI) can be called blasphemy,” Ismail Hasani said.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – A few hours after the unexpected verdict of two years in prison for Jakarta’s outgoing governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, civil society groups are calling for a revision of the blasphemy law.

Overnight Ahok was moved from the Cipinang detention centre in East Java to a compound of the mobile police in Depok, West Java.

The transfer was made for security reasons. The prison where the governor was detained holds several anti-Ahok prisoners, including some former Jakarta city officials.

Late last night, when Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was still in the chief warden’s office, police heard inmates shouting threats against the governor.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Ahok supporters gathered at Cipinang Detention Centre to protest against his arrest and ask for his release. They included Jakarta Vice Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, who was sworn in today as acting Jakarta governor.

This morning the crowd moved to city hall where protest organisers prepared to act as guarantors to get Ahok out of jail.

Meanwhile, the ruling by the North Jakarta court continues to cause tensions and controversy. The judges yesterday imposed a heavier sentence than the one asked by the public prosecution.

Prosecutors had dropped the charges of blasphemy and suggested that Ahok be sentenced to two-year probation and one year in case he broke it.

For Setara Institute president Hendardi, the court decision against Ahok points to the need for a major overhaul to Article 156a of the Criminal Code on offenses against religion.

In a statement released last night, the rights activist stressed that in recent years, blasphemy has often been used by groups and organisations as a pretext for putting social and political pressure on their opponents. In Hendardi’s view, this is what happened in Ahok’s case.

Over the last few months radical Islamist movements, opposed to Jakarta’s governor, an ethnic Chinese Christian, intensified their action to prevent his re-election and get him convicted to stop his political career. For most Indonesians it is evident that the court was influenced by such pressure.

According to Surya Chandra, law professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, South Jakarta, what happened in yesterday’s trial is a disgrace for the country’s young democracy. The judges failed to exert their independence.

“They did not vet the evidence properly,” he said. “Instead, they focused on something else. Two things conditioned yesterday’s final hearing: strong political pressure and a secret plan to block bureaucratic transformation and Ahok’s reforms against corruption among government officials.”

For Antonius Yudo Prihartono, a lawyer at the Central Business & Communication Office, Kudus (Java), “Article 156a of the Criminal Code on Blasphemy is an elastic article”.

“Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison on the same day that another man was found not guilty and released in Klaten, Central Java.” In this case, Prihartono notes, the man was accused of blasphemy in connection of a case filed by the St Joseph the Worker parish, in Gondangwinangun (Klaten), over the desecration of statues of the Virgin.

According to the human rights activists, Article 156a does not respect personal freedoms and is discriminatory, as it does not protect the right of Indonesian citizens to express and manifest their religious beliefs.

However, “Any opinion or claim other than that of the majority and not in accordance with the dictates of the Islamic Council of Ulema (MUI) can be called blasphemy,” said Ismail Hasani.

Article 156a is not the only piece of legislation on blasphemy. State law 1/PNPS/1965 is another. Both were adopted under the Suharto regime to prevent the development of religions other than Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, which are the country’s officially recognised religions.

Until 1998, when President Suharto fell from power, only ten blasphemy cases were brought to trial. Since then, they steadily increased as Islam became increasingly politicised in Indonesia. So far some 50 cases have been prosecuted.



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