Indonesia prosecutors call for one-year jail term for Jakarta governor

By Fergus Jensen
Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama arrives for his court hearing in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Tatan Syuflana/Pool

By Fergus Jensen

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian prosecutors called on Thursday for Jakarta's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, to be jailed for one year on blasphemy charges, in a trial that is seen as a test of the Muslim-majority nation's religious tolerance.

Purnama, 50, is heading for defeat in his bid to remain governor in this week's election against his Muslim opponent Anies Baswedan, unofficial counts showed. The religiously charged campaign saw mass Islamist protests against the incumbent for allegedly insulting Islam.

"We call for the judge to sentence the defendant to one year in prison. ..for expressing hate or insult toward a section of the Indonesian people," said chief prosecutor Ali Mukartono.

"We also call for an added two years probation period," he said, meaning that if Purnama were to repeat the offense within two years, he would go to prison.

The trial centers on comments that Purnama made last year about his opponents' use of the Islamic holy book in political campaigning. Many Muslim groups, especially hardline Islamists, took offense to the comments and called for Purnama to be sacked and jailed.

On Thursday, members of hardline groups, which led hundreds of thousands of Muslims to protest against Purnama during the election campaign, reacted angrily to the prosecutor's call.

Hundreds of members of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) rallied outside the court, chanting "not enough" after the prosecution made their request.

Purnama, Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese and Christian leader, has denied the blasphemy charges and a verdict is expected in the coming weeks. [nL3N1HR42G]

Rights activists have raised concerns about blasphemy laws being used to harass Indonesia's minorities, even though religious diversity is enshrined in the constitution.

Nearly all blasphemy cases in recent years have resulted in convictions.

Purnama has six months left in office, when his successor is expected to be sworn in as the new governor.

(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)