Downgrade of Charges Against Ahok Good, but Why Was He Prosecuted at All?

Incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, center, arrives to attend a court session on Thursday (20/04) as prosecutors prepare make their sentence demand in the blasphemy case against him. (Antara Photo/Muhammad Adimaja)

By : Dames Alexander Sinaga & Alin Almanar | on 12:03 PM April 21, 2017
Category : News, Crime, Featured

Jakarta. The sentence demand made by prosecutors in Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's blasphemy trial on Thursday (20/04) may be a relief for the incumbent Jakarta governor, but many are concerned about the way law enforcers in the country appear to bow to the demands of street mobs.

North Jakarta District Court prosecutors demanded two years probation with a possible one-year jail term for Ahok, downgrading the charge against the embattled governor, who had been facing blasphemy charges since November last year after quoting verse 51 of the Koran's Al-Maidah chapter during a speech on Pramuka Island in Jakarta's Thousand Islands district.

Police declared Ahok a suspect in November after more than 100,000 Muslims marched against the governor, who is a Christian of Chinese ethnicity.

Protesters demanded Ahok's immediate arrest, but police later decided against detention as investigators had mixed views of the case and the governor was only barred from leaving the country.

Thursday's sentence recommendation by prosecutors indicate that police did not follow due process in naming Ahok a blasphemy suspect, Jakarta-based human rights group, the Setara Institute, said.

"It was more a move by law enforcers to satisfy the desire of a political mob to send Ahok to prison and to remove him from the Jakarta election by stigmatizing him as a 'blasphemer,'" Setara Institute deputy head Bonar Tigor Naipospos said in a statement released shortly after Thursday's court session.

"It's obvious that the blasphemy trial against Ahok is just a move by law enforcers to further political interests, or at least, a move to let law enforcement become an instrument catering to the interest of street mobs," he said in the statement.

Bonar said the recommendation for a lighter sentence for Ahok also indicates that there has been legal confusion among prosecutors, and that the judges should therefore dismiss all charges.

"It's better to free a thousand people than convict one innocent person," Bonar said.

Mob violence on Jakarta streets following a protest march against incumbent Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama on Nov. 4 last year. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal) Mob violence on Jakarta streets following a protest march against incumbent Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama on Nov. 4 last year. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal)

Airlangga Pribadi Kusman, a lecturer in politics at Airlangga University in Surabaya, East Java, echoed Bonar Tigor's view, saying social tensions were expected to ease after the quick count results showed Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election on Wednesday.

He said there was no longer any need to pursue the charges against Ahok, the capital's first ethnic Chinese governor in the post-Suharto era.

"It is really obvious that there is political dimension to Ahok's blasphemy charge. Ahok-Djarot's rivals have used it as a 'political tool' to achieve their victory," Airlangga said.

"Since Ahok lost the election, there would no longer be social tensions and pressure from his rivals. On the other hand, Ahok's supporters also don't seem interested in pouring more gasoline on the current situation," the lecturer said.

Airlangga said the main concern in the long run is to prevent a repeat of this situation in other parts of Indonesia.

"Using religion for political gain can be seen as an alternative method for them to win elections by manufacturing blasphemy issues and hoaxes, which also happened during the 2014 presidential election," he said.

During Thursday's court session, prosecutors opted not to charge Ahok with Article 156a of the Criminal Code on blasphemy, explaining that his criticism was directed at people, not the Koran.

Prosecutors instead charged him with transgressing Article 156, which requires them to prove that Ahok publicly expressed feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against one or more population groups.

Ahok's slip of the tongue still left him with some problems, with prosecutors demanding that "if he commits any criminal offense, not necessarily blasphemy, he will be imprisoned for a year," Ismail, a law professor at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta, told the Jakarta Globe.

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