Jakarta's Christian governor decides not to appeal blasphemy conviction
JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – Jakarta's jailed Christian governor Monday, May 22, decided at the last minute not to appeal his conviction for blaspheming Islam, as his legal team prepared to submit the appeal memo.
This, as the United Nations stepped up pressure on Indonesia to overturn the controversial sentence.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, was jailed for two years earlier this month for insulting the Koran, a shock decision that has undermined a reputation for religious tolerance in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.
Lawyers for Ahok, who is currently in detention, were prepared to file the appeal to the High Court in Jakarta. They believe the judges' decision did not properly take into account testimony from defense witnesses, lawyer Ronny Talapessy told AFP
"The verdict not only stunned us and the prosecutors, the whole world was left in disbelief," Talapessy said.
But the decision to appeal was revoked after Ahok's family decided against it following discussions in the High Court chamber. Josefina, one of Ahok's lawyers, told Rappler that Ahok's wife Veronica Tan had come to review the appeal and discuss it with the lawyers, before finally deciding not to continue.
Not appealing means Ahok accepts his two-year sentence. It is not clear why Ahok's family changed their mind.
The sentence of Ahok – Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader – was widely criticized as too harsh after prosecutors had demanded that he be given just two years' probation.
A group of UN human rights experts urged Indonesia to free the 50-year-old and repeal the country's blasphemy laws, which critics say have been repeatedly used to target minorities.
“We urge the government to overturn Mr. Purnama’s sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately,” said a statement from the experts, who included special rapporteurs on freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
Ahok was hauled into court last year to face trial for allegedly insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election, after the claims sparked major protests in Jakarta.
He offended Muslims after quoting a passage from the Koran, which he said his opponents were using to trick people into voting against him. Some interpret the verse as meaning Muslims should not vote for non-Muslim leaders.
Ahok had once been favorite to win last month's Jakarta election but went on to lose to a Muslim challenger following the blasphemy claims. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com