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Christian governor's blasphemy conviction sparks protests in Jakarta

(Reuters/Bay Ismoyo/Pool)Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, speaks to his lawyers after the guilty verdict in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017.

Supporters of Jakarta's Christian governor gathered outside the city hall on Wednesday to protest his blasphemy conviction, in a case that has raised concerns about human rights and religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Outgoing Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday for blasphemy against Islam for accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to discourage Muslims from voting for him in the election.

The verdict has been seen as a shock decision as the prosecutors only recommended probation for Purnama after he lost the election to his Muslim contender, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan.

On Wednesday morning, an estimated 1,000 people wearing red and white, Indonesia's national colors, gathered outside the city hall to express their support for Purnama.

According to The Guardian, the crowd sang the country's national anthem, Indonesia Raya, and Pancasila Garuda, a song about Indonesia's founding principles of unity and diversity.

Acting governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, who was Purnama's deputy, was seen at the rally encouraging the crowd, saying "Let's fight for justice."

"Last night I met with Ahok and he wants me to convey this message, 'We have to respect whatever the judges have decided, but the fight is not over yet,'" Hidayat said, as reported by The Straits Times.

Local and international rights groups have also raised concerns about the verdict against Purnama.

The Jakarta-based rights group the Setara Institute described it as a "trial by mob," while ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) saw it as "a triumph for intolerance and an ominous sign for minority rights."

"This case demonstrates the need for Indonesia to take steps to address rising religious intolerance and revise its legislation to ensure compliance with international human rights standards, including freedom of thought, expression, and belief," said APHR chairman Charles Santiago.

Champa Patel, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, called on Indonesian authorities to repeal the country's blasphemy law.

"This verdict demonstrates the inherent injustice of Indonesia's blasphemy law, which should be repealed immediately," he said in a statement. "The verdict will tarnish Indonesia's reputation for tolerance," he added.

Islamic hardliners, who led the mass protests against the Christian governor last year, celebrated the verdict, but some were angry that Purnama did not receive the maximum jail term of five years.

Purnama was transferred to a high-security detention facility outside the capital on Wednesday after his supporters amassed at the jail where he was initially sent.

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