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Jailed outgoing governor of Jakarta drops appeal

Ahok says he wants to avoid creating further division in Indonesian society

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Jailed outgoing governor of Jakarta drops appeal

Veronica Tan, wife of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, tells press on May 23 that her husband has withdrawn his appeal against a blasphemy conviction for the good of Indonesia. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

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Jailed outgoing governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja "Ahok" Purnama has made a shock decision to withdraw an appeal against his two-year jail term for blasphemy, saying that he will put his fate in the Lord's hands.

Lawyers of Ahok filed his appeal on May 22 but his family withdrew it. During a press conference on May 23, Ahok's wife, Veronica Tan read a handwritten letter from Ahok quoting Psalm 131 telling his supporters to "put hope in the Lord, now and always."

In his letter, Ahok said he decided to end the appeal because he did not want to harm the Jakarta people.

"I thank you, brothers and sisters, who continue to support me by writing letters, giving books and food and the candlelight vigil. I am really grateful," he wrote.

"We show that we are people who believe in God Almighty, loving fellow human beings and enforcing truth and justice," he said.

If his appeal succeeded Ahok could have walked free but if it had failed the higher courts could have added to his sentence.

Ahok's lawyer I Wayan Sudirta said that by revoking his appeal, Ahok stayed true to his principle to put the interest of the nation ahead of his own. "He wants to serve the people and believes in God's plan," he said, adding that Ahok plans to spend his jail term in prayer and reflection.

Sudiarta said Ahok would carry out his sentence without fuss and hopes for a remission from the government to reduce his sentence.

Another of Ahok's lawyers, Ronny Talapessy, said the outgoing governor, a member of the Church of Christ Jesus, chose to withdraw the appeal out of respect for Muslims.

"He doesn't want more protests [against him by Muslims] that will happen if he moves forward with the appeal which would also distract their worship during Ramadan," Ronny said. Ramadan will start at the end of this week.

Meanwhile, Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, the national secretary of Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, called Ahok's move "the right decision."

"Ahok showed his great soul as a statesman," he said. "He wants to sacrifice himself for the greater interest of the nation so that divisions do not continue," he said.

Father Susetyo said Ahok's case has caused prolonged conflict among his supporters and their opponents.

"This nation must abandon identity politics and the role of religion must be restored to its proper position and not be used as a tool for political interests," he said.

In a shock verdict, Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Quran by an Indonesian court on May 9.

Ahok lost his bid to be reelected as Jakarta governor on April 19, the conclusion of a polarizing campaign tainted by his lengthy trial and mass protests conducted by hard-line Islamist groups.

Ahok's sentence was widely criticized, including from international groups, as too harsh. There is a growing demand to free Ahok including from a group of U.N. human rights experts who also urged Indonesia to repeal the blasphemy laws, which critics say have been repeatedly used to target religious minorities.

About 85 percent of Indonesia's population of 240 million are Muslims, of which majority are Sunni. In Jakarta province alone, Muslims comprise 8.2 million, while Protestants and Catholics comprise more than 720,000 and 303,000 respectively.

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