Jakarta ex-governor freed from prison after blasphemy sentence

Indonesian supporters of Jakarta’s former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok sing along to celebrate his release from prison in Jakarta on Thursday. — AFP

JAKARTA — Jakarta’s former governor was released from prison on Thursday, nearly two years after his blasphemy conviction fanned fears of religious intolerance in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — the Indonesian capital’s first non-Muslim governor in half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader — left a prison outside the capital after dawn.

Supporters of the Christian ex-governor, who is popularly known as Ahok, gathered outside the prison, chanting and cheering his new found freedom.

“My dad’s a free man! Thank you everyone for the support,” Nicholas Sean, one of his three children, said on Twitter.

The release ends one of the most tumultuous chapters in Indonesian politics in recent memory.

Purnama had been a popular politician who won praise for trying to clean up the traffic-clogged megacity and clamp down on corruption before his imprisonment.

But his downfall came quickly after comments he made on the campaign trail during a re-election bid saw him accused of insulting Islam.

The filmed remarks, which went viral online, sparked mass protests in Jakarta, spearheaded by radical groups and encouraged by his political rivals.

Purnama has not said publicly whether he would re-enter politics, but some think he should press on with his battle against graft in the corruption-riddled nation.

“I hope he becomes chairman of the anti-graft agency and clobbers corrupt people,” supporter Supardi Aulele said.

Purnama’s case drew international headlines and a wave of criticism, including from the United Nations, which urged the country of 260 million to revise its decades-old blasphemy law.

“Ahok’s unjust conviction is a reminder that minorities in Indonesia are at risk so long as the abusive blasphemy law remains in place,” said Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch.

The huge demonstrations calling for Purnama’s jailing fueled concerns about the growing influence of religious hard-liners and that the Southeast Asian country’s much-vaunted tolerant brand of Islam was under threat. — AFP