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Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on the sentencing of an Indonesian governor for blasphemy

09.05.2017 - Press release

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, Bärbel Kofler, issued the following statement today (9 May) on the sentencing of the governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, for blasphemy:

It was with concern that I heard the news about the ruling of 9 May by the North Jakarta District Court against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment following a blasphemy trial. Lawyers representing Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known in Germany by the name Ahok, have announced their intention to appeal this decision.

As the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, a nation that is committed to democracy, religious tolerance and pluralism, the Republic of Indonesia is held in high regard in the Federal Republic and around the world. I call on Indonesia’s politicians, society and institutions to continue this tradition. In so doing, I wish to call to mind Indonesia’s voluntary commitment to acknowledge and promote all rights stemming from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which include the right to freedom of speech and the freedom of religion in particular.

Background information:

On 9 May, the North Jakarta District Court sentenced Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who goes by the name Ahok, to two years’ imprisonment without parole for charges of blasphemy in a surprise ruling. In so doing, the five judges went beyond both the charge brought by the public prosecution office (“spreading hate”) and the requested penalty (a suspended sentence). They applied a blasphemy paragraph that the UN Human Rights Council has recommended be scrapped or revised on repeated occasions. Immediately after the announcement of the ruling, Ahok was taken into custody and removed from office. His lawyers have announced their intention to appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court.

This judgement casts a shadow over Indonesia’s moderate form of Islam, which places an emphasis on the tolerant, pluralistic aspects of the religion. Conservative Muslim groups instituted legal proceedings against Ahok for blasphemy seven months ago. These proceedings were, particularly at the instigation of the small splinter party, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), flanked by the largest mass protests on the streets of Jakarta since the upheavals of 1998. On the previous day, Monday, 8 May 2017, the Government had banned another splinter party, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which was accused of radical Islamistic activities and was also involved in the mass demonstrations.

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