IMPRISONED former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja PURNAMA, has been named a global influencer by publication Foreign Policy (FP) for his ability “not just to rethink our strange new world, but also to reshape it.” The annual list of Global Thinkers is compiled by the American magazine to highlight the work of the “doers who defined 2017.” Amongst the acknowledged people are politicians, advocates, comedians, entrepreneurs, and researchers who have made an impact in the last 12 months.
In May, Ahok was sentenced to two years in jail under Indonesia’s controversial blasphemy law. He was convicted of insulting the Quran when an edited video of him speaking at a rally surfaced on YouTube. The man responsible for the misleading editing was sentenced to 18 months’ jail in November for violating a section of the country’s cyber law.
As Muslim-majority Indonesia’s first Christian governor of Chinese descent, FP recognises that Ahok was always going to be a “polarising figure.” Since taking office in 2012, he became Indonesia’s “most prominent symbol of Indonesia’s beleaguered ethnic and religious pluralism,” the publication said. During his terms, Ahok made some popular contributions to civil society.
“He used the post to continue fighting corruption, expand access to health care and other social services, dredge the megacity’s stopped-up canals, and improve public transportation, a desperately needed administrative clean-up campaign that helped earn him high approval ratings,” the list reads.
While his arrest and subsequent conviction prompted an outpouring of support, Ahok wasn’t a universally loved governor. He proved to be divisive, especially amongst the urban poor populations, many of whom were forced to relocate due to land reclamation and development projects. The “offhand comment” about the Quran that eventually landed him in jail sparked widespread protests among Islamic hardliners. An estimated 100,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta in November 2016 to protest.
Critics of the charges claimed the controversy had as much to do with politics as religion. Ahok’s main opponent in the election, Muslim Anies Baswedan seized on the moment to court the Islamist vote – he later went on to win the gubernatorial election. Rights groups and the United Nations condemned the ruling, saying in a statement that the Indonesian authorities had “appeased incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination.”
As the most high-profile blasphemy conviction in the nation’s history, Ahok’s case has drawn attention to religious freedom and discrimination against minorities in pluralistic Indonesia, FP said. “By losing his own freedom, Ahok just might encourage others to steer the country back to the middle ground.”