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'He's changed now': Ahok quietly released two years after imprisonment

Sydney Morning Herald - January 24, 2019

James Massola & Amilia Rosa – His release took place away from the glare of a huge media scrum – and a small band of loyal supporters who had gathered outside the Mako Brimob prison – with the man widely known by his Chinese Hakka name of Ahok walking free at 7.30am on Thursday morning.

Ahok's personal secretary told Deteik.com that he had been picked up by his eldest son Nicholas Sean and a member of his staff. He is expected to see his family and then meet supporters later on Thursday.

The jailing of the then-governor of Jakarta in May 2017 for blasphemy was hugely controversial and the repercussions are still being felt in the world's largest majority-Muslim nation. His case is one of many recent ones that highlight the growing influence of conservative Islam in a country that has traditionally practiced a tolerant and pluralist version of Islam.

Outside the jail, Nuri – one of Ahok's supporters – said she and fellow Ahok supporters had been gathering near the prison for several days prior to his release.

"We are a bit upset we didn't get to see him walk free after days of waiting. But we are happy he is free," she said.Former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama talks to his lawyers after his sentencing in May 2017.

Former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama talks to his lawyers after his sentencing in May 2017.Credit:AP

"He was jailed fairly, he did make a mistake, he was talking about something he didn't have a full knowledge of. But his case was for sure politicised. There were other, stronger cases [of blasphemy] than his."

"We hope he will return to politics, but in a greater position. He needs to reach out to more than Jakarta, such as the head of the KPK [the national anti-corruption commission], he can get all of those who are corrupt."

Marijan Muhammad, another supporter of Ahok who waited patiently in his wheelchair for the former governor, said he had been unfairly jailed.

"That's what we hope, yes [that he returns to politics]. But he needs to change his attitude a bit. He was arrogant, I am hearing he's changed now. That's good."

The claim that Ahok had committed blasphemy was made in September 2016 after he said in a speech that the Koran did not state that Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim. The comment triggered huge protests by conservative Muslims, months of disruption in Jakarta and led to the charge of blasphemy.

Ahok had served as Joko Widodo's deputy governor but when Widodo won the presidential election in 2014, Ahok was elevated to the governor's job.

Days ahead of his release, Ahok hinted at an eventual return to politics in a lengthy, hand-written note on Instagram.

He also said that he was grateful to God that he had gone to prison and lost his 2017 bid for re-election as governor, as if he had won he would have become more "arrogant".

Ahok has also asked supporters to no longer refer to him as Ahok, but rather as "BTP".

Local media have reported that he will marry for a second time on February 15 to a policewoman, Puput Nastiti Devi. There have also been reports that he could convert to Islam, or that she could convert to Christianity, to help ensure the marriage can take place in a country where interreligious marriage is difficult.

In a twist, Widodo's now-vice presidential running mate, the cleric Ma'ruf Amin, testified against Widodo's former political ally Ahok during the 2017 trial.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/he-s-changed-now-ahok-quietly-released-two-years-after-imprisonment-20190124-p50ter.html