Indonesia: Ahok’s unjust detention further compounded by fair trial concerns

Amnesty International Indonesia regrets the Supreme Court’s missed opportunity to end the unjust detention of former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahja Purnama, convicted for blasphemy in 2017. The organization urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ahok as he has been solely detained for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, and to investigate any possible violations to the right to a fair trial, including the right to have an appeal heard by an independent and impartial tribunal.

“The Supreme Court lost a chance to right this wrong and ensure the protection of the right to freedom of expression in Indonesia. The blasphemy sentence against Ahok is unjust and violates Indonesia’s international human rights obligations. Indonesian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Ahok and revoke the discriminatory blasphemy law,” said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid.

Ahok was sentenced on May 9, 2017, to two years’ imprisonment for blasphemy, and is only one of at least 11 people in Indonesia to have been convicted of blasphemy in 2017. Other people convicted for blasphemy include Ahmad Mushaddeq, Mahful Muis Tumanurung, and Andry Cahya, the three leaders of a now disbanded faith minority group known as ‘Gafatar’ (the Fajar Nusantara Movement), who were convicted for blasphemy by the East Jakarta District Court on 7 March 2017.

Days following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the plea to review Ahok’s case on March 28, news reports highlighted possible undue interferences with the tribunal and questioned the impartiality of the decision. According to media reports, a statement by the leader of Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in 2014 said that a Supreme Court justice presiding over this case was the head of the same organization’s law and human rights division. FPI was the organization that strongly pushed the National Police to slap blasphemy charges against Ahok. The Supreme Court justice has denied the possible links in media statements.

“The Judicial Commission and the Supreme Court’s ethics body must take prompt measures to ensure the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and launch an investigation into these allegations. If not, serious and legitimate questions about the fairness of Indonesia’s judicial system will remain,” said Usman Hamid.

Blasphemy laws have been used by both Muslims and non-Muslims in attempts to stifle the right to freedom of expression and religion in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world.

Although the blasphemy law (Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965) and Article 156(a) of the Criminal Code were enacted in 1965, they were used to prosecute only around 10 individuals between 1965 and 1998. Between 2005 and 2014, Amnesty International has recorded at least 106 individuals who have been prosecuted and convicted under blasphemy laws. Ahok is the first high-ranking government official convicted of blasphemy.

Amnesty International supports the continued battle to seek justice and will continue demanding the authorities to revoke the blasphemy law once and for all.