International groups have expressed grave reservations about human rights and religious tolerance in Indonesia following the jailing of Jakarta's Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy. The governor, known as Ahok, was jailed for two years on May 9 following a lengthy trial. "This verdict demonstrates the inherent injustice of Indonesia's blasphemy law, which should be repealed immediately," said Champa Patel, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "The verdict will tarnish Indonesia's reputation for tolerance," he said in a statement
. The rights group called on Indonesian authorities to repeal blasphemy laws that have been used to prosecute and imprison people for "defamation" of religion for up to five years.
At least 106 individuals were prosecuted and convicted under blasphemy laws between 2005 and 2014. Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said the punishment handed down to Ahok was deeply disconcerting not only for Indonesia, but for the entire ASEAN region. The Malaysian lawmaker said Ahok is a victim of rising extremism and religious identity politics, and the verdict against him "is a triumph for intolerance and an ominous sign for minority rights." "This case demonstrates the need for Indonesia to take steps to address rising religious intolerance and revise its legislation to ensure compliance with international human rights standards, including freedom of thought, expression, and belief," Santiago said. APHR Vice Chair Eva Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, called on ASEAN to ensure that democracy is not eroded by religious intolerance and groups taking advantage of religious divisions to pursue political agendas. "This has already happened in countries like Myanmar, and now we're seeing the same in Indonesia, which is a barometer of regional democracy," she said referring to the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asian division at the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), said the blasphemy law has been used as the legal basis for a number of government regulations that facilitate official discrimination on the basis of religion. It includes a government decree issued in June 2008 that ordered members of the Ahmadiyah religious community to cease all public religious activities on the grounds they deviated from the principal teachings of Islam and threatened violators with up to five years in prison, he said.
Candlelit vigil for Ahok
Meanwhile, priests, nuns and lay Catholics joined hundreds of people at a candle-lit rally outside a Jakarta prison on May 9 to give moral support to Ahok. "I came here to support Ahok. We know he was jailed because of outside pressure [from radical groups]," Divine Word Father Fransiskus Funan, chairman of Ende Archdiocese's ecumenical and interreligious affairs commission, said at the vigil outside Cipinang prison in East Jakarta. Divine Providence Sister Laurentina called Ahok's jailing a miscarriage of justice. "We have seen the legal proceedings in Ahok's case and to me it does not make sense. There seems to be political influence behind all this." Alarmed at the number of supporters heading to the prison, authorities later moved Ahok from the prison to the National Police's Mobile Brigade detention center in Depok, West Java.
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