a new life for Jakarta’s high-flying Christian governor

By Ed Davies

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Jakarta’s once hugely popular governor is being held in a simple room at a high-security detention center, his only comforts a Bible and visitors twice a week. It’s a grim new life following his conviction for insulting Islam in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was hurriedly transferred to the high-security police facility in a suburb of the city early on Wednesday after his supporters surrounded the Jakarta jail he was initially sent to.

His sister said the family also feared his life was in danger from furious Islamists.

“The religious people have been saying in the mosques that his blood is haram (forbidden) and that killing him is good,” Fifi Lety Indra, the sister and head of his legal team, told Reuters. “This is necessary protection and it gives us peace and comfort that he’s there.”

His two-year imprisonment on Tuesday was much harsher than the suspended sentence the prosecution had sought for the ethnic-Chinese Christian governor, prompting warnings that Islam is creeping into politics and the judiciary of the secular nation.

The blasphemy conviction is a stunning downfall for the close ally of President Joko Widodo. Brash and unafraid to take on the moneyed elite, Purnama – popularly known by his Chinese nickname ‘Ahok’ – was widely admired for his no-nonsense drive to modernize a chaotic city long plagued by traffic and flooding.

His fortunes turned last September, when he was seeking re-election. He said his political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse from the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Purnama denied the blasphemy allegation but apologized for the comments. But hardline groups drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Jakarta, calling for him to be sacked and jailed for insulting Islam’s holy book.

Popular sentiment turned against him after those demonstrations and he lost his bid for another term as governor in elections this year. His trial, which began late last year, took religious tensions in Indonesia to their highest in years.

BLOCKING TRAFFIC

Purnama was initially taken to Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta, a Dutch colonial-era high-security prison notorious for its overcrowding and home to convicted drug offenders and Islamist militants.

He was moved to a police compound in Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta because his supporters were blocking traffic around the Cipinang prison. Some even attempted to topple a barbed-wire fence there.

    His sister Indra brought their mother to meet him in Depok on her birthday. 

  “We met him in prison with our Muslim siblings, we hugged, we cried. The whole thing happened so fast,” Indra said.

Though Purnama was born to non-Muslim parents and is a Christian, he was adopted by a Muslim family on the tiny island of Belitung, off Sumatra.

He does not have a phone or a television in the police facility, and Indra said the only…

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