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Protestors Rally for Jakarta's Christian Governor


Jakarta's Christian governor, Basuki Purnama, better known as Ahok, is facing back-to-back defeat. Just a few weeks after losing the gubernatorial run-off election, a district court sentenced him to two years in prison for blasphemy, a ruling most Indonesians find questionable. The ruling triggered street protests not only to save the governor, but also to save justice and democracy in Indonesia.

Angry and embittered supporters of the Christian governor gathered in front of the court building demanding his release.

Protesters held banners calling for the governor's freedom. The rallies are taking place in different parts of Indonesia. Human rights groups and Ahok's supporters believe the court ruling is unacceptable because it's based on problematic and irrelevant criminal laws against blasphemy.

Ahok's two-year prison sentence is based on a re-election campaign speech in which he allegedly said voters were being deceived by his opponents who said the Koran prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader.

"Because of this blasphemy clause, maybe you don't have willingness to insult the Koran and then they say you conduct blasphemy. And then you can go into prison," political activist Boni Hargens said.

Ahok, a Christian with ethnic Chinese roots, is a double minority in Indonesia, which is the world's largest Muslim country.

Observers say the judges have been pressured by radical Muslim groups because they ignored the prosecutors' recommendation to sentence Ahok to two years of probation due to insufficient evidence.

Hargens says the case is part of the political game plan for the next presidential election. He warns that radical Muslims are using religion to impose their extremist views on the country.

"They claim this country. They do not hide anything," Hargens said. "They want to change Pancasila to Shariah [Islamic law]."

The Pancasila is the embodiment of basic principles of an independent Indonesian state.

Hargens says Ahok's detention has opened up a Pandora's Box, exposing the true state of Indonesian justice.

"This is not about Ahok anymore. This is about justice," he said. "Let's not be a silent majority. This is the time for us to show there are still a lot of people in Indonesia [who] still care about the justice."

While Ahok's lawyers prepare an appeal to the higher court, his supporters continue to hold rallies. They say the Christian governor symbolizes hope for Indonesia.

"He has been successful in creating the true change in Indonesia," Hargens said. "So when we are talking about Ahok, we are actually talking about ourselves, about our dream, about our hope, about the future in Indonesia, about democracy."

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