By Fergus Jensen
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian prosecutors on Thursday recommended a one-year suspended jail sentence for Jakarta’s Christian governor in his blasphemy trial, which has been seen as a test of the Muslim-majority nation’s religious tolerance.
The call for a relatively light sentence came as Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, 50, was heading for defeat in Wednesday’s election against his Muslim opponent Anies Baswedan. The religiously charged campaign saw mass Islamist-led protests against the incumbent for allegedly insulting Islam.
“We call for the judge to sentence the defendant to one-year in prison with two years probation ..for expressing hate or insult toward a section of the Indonesian people,” chief prosecutor Ali Mukartono said in court.
The sentence recommendation means that Purnama would not have to serve time in jail unless he were to repeat the offence within two years, Purnama’s lawyer Humphrey Armri Djemat told Reuters.
He said, however, his legal team would push for all charges to be dropped against his client.
Prosecutors were unavailable for comment.
Purnama, Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese and Christian leader, has denied the blasphemy charges, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.
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 offence 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.
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, Ed Davies and Michael Perry)