Ahok: Former Jakarta governor released early from prison

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The former governor of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, jailed for blasphemy in 2017, has been released early.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, is a Christian and was Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor in 50 years.

The blasphemy accusations and his two-year jail sentence were seen as a test of religious tolerance in the Muslim-majority country.

At the time, the case had sparked widespread protests both in support and condemnation of the politician.

Mr Purnama was released early, after 20 months, for good behaviour.

Blasphemy accusations

Ahok was accused of blasphemy over comments he made during a pre-election campaign in September 2016.

In a speech, he implied that Islamic leaders were trying to trick voters by using a verse in the Koran to argue that Muslims should not vote for a non-Muslim leader.

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  • Blasphemy conviction divides a nation

An edited video of his remarks was widely shared online. It sparked outrage among religious hard-liners who staged regular large rallies calling for him to face trial.

Throughout the trial, Mr Purnama denied wrongdoing, but did apologise for his comments.

The eventual verdict had been met with strong protest. Hard-line Islamic groups who called for the maximum penalty of five years said it was too lenient, but Mr Purnama’s supporters said it was too harsh and that he should be acquitted.

Anti-corruption stance

During his term as Jakarta governor from 2014 to 2017, Mr Purnama was known as a straight-talking technocrat.

His policies included the setting of minimum wages, calling for free school education and healthcare, reducing traffic congestion and tackling corruption among government officials.

These policies, along with his strong anti-corruption stance, made him very popular in Indonesia and he was tipped as a possible future president.

But in May 2017 he lost the governorship to conservative Muslim candidate Anies Rasyid Baswedan.

Mr Purnama’s subsequent imprisonment deeply divided the nation.

“This ruling is sending a clear message to the minorities that they can’t play around with the majority or this is what will happen to you,” Bivitri Susanti, one of the founders of the Centre of Study for Law and Policy, told the BBC at the time.

Jakarta is a melting pot of many ethnic groups. Despite being a majority Muslim country, Indonesia has a pluralist and multi-faith constitution that recognises six official religions.

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