Verdict expected in blasphemy case against Jakarta's Christian governor

As well as being a minority ethnic Chinese Indonesian, the outgoing governor is also a Christian.

Critics see Ahok's fate as tied to a prolonged decline in religious tolerance in Indonesia.

The guilty verdict comes amid concern about the growing influence of extremist groups, who organised mass demonstrations during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama losing his bid for another term as governor.

Outside the court, Syamsu Hilal, a member of a hard-line Muslim group who reported Ahok to police a year ago, said justice had been upheld.

Ahok was charged with blasphemy after saying in September that voters were being deceived by people attempting to use Qur'anic verses to say that Muslims should not support a Christian leader.

Purnama had on a work trip a year ago said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Quran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim.

The trial came after a series of major protests against the leader, known by his nickname Ahok, in the capital that drew hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

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He was defeated last month in a runoff vote against Muslim candidate and former academic Anies Baswedan. "If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country's largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?" asked Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch, according to Reuters.

The two-year prison sentence was a surprise outcome after prosecutors had recommended two years of probation. While lots of Islamic groups called for the maximum penalty of five years, few groups think the court verdict was too harsh and Ahok should be acquitted.

TV news coverage of the scene outside the court showed some supporters weeping.Prosecutors had called for a suspended one-year jail sentence on charges of hate speech.

"As a person who grew up among Muslims, it is not possible for me to intentionally insult Islam because that is the same as disrespecting the people I appreciate and love", he said, referring to his Muslim godparents. He said he would immediately appeal the court's decision.

"What is most important is that we all believe in the legal mechanism to solve every problem and that is indeed how a democratic country resolves differences of views", he said.

He was popular with Jakarta's middle class for efforts to stamp out corruption and make the teeming city more livable.

Almost 13,000 policemen were deployed in the Indonesian capital to prevent clashes between supporters and opponents of Ahok, who lost the Governor's re-election on April 19.

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