INDONESIAN netizens have come out in droves to wish former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama a happy birthday, which he will celebrate behind bars.
Thousands of well-wishers sent messages to Ahok, who was given two years’ imprisonment in May for blasphemy against Islam, for his 51st birthday. He is serving his sentence in the Rutan Mako Brimob detention centre in Depok, West Java, south of the capital.
The hashtag #HBDAhok51 was the top trending hashtag on Twitter across all of Indonesia on Thursday.
— L🅰W🅰N 👊 R🅰DIK🅰L (@tomy_alfino) June 28, 2017
Indonesian politics has been shaken by the jailing of the Christian, ethnic Chinese Ahok, which many see as a threat to freedom of speech, minority rights and a historically tolerant form of Islam in Southeast Asia’s largest democracy.
Rallies in support of Ahok were held across the archipelago and by Indonesian diaspora communities in North America, Asia, Europe and Australia in the wake of his imprisonment last month.
A half-hour YouTube video was released on Wednesday featuring citizens and high-profile figures such as Martin Gil the CEO of Coca Cola Indonesia, rockstar Giring Ganesha, and Muslim preacher Gus Nuril, a prominent figure in the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – the world’s largest Islamic organisation.
Gus Nuril called Ahok a “martyr” for Indonesia – a popular theme among his supporters who have drawn parallels with Nelson Mandela and Gandhi.
SFG Aviation CEO Chico Hakim sent a video message from Jakarta’s city mosque which was built and inaugurated by Ahok when he was in office.
Comedian Rony “Mongol” Immanuel said he missed the governor and joked that when Ahok returns to city hall, he would find an ice cream waiting for him in the fridge.
— Mohd.Nasrun A Yusuf (@albaransyah) June 29, 2017
— Rebecca Levara (@rebeccalevara) June 29, 2017
Well-wishers described him as the best governor ever and as brave, honest and anti-corruption, while sending their greetings to the ex-governor’s family.
Ahok is said to be using his time behind bars to read the bible, brush up on his Mandarin and learn kung fu. Citizens can go on a waiting list to visit the former governor in prison.
His family says it is safest for him to be in prison for the time being after a number of death threats were received.
“The religious people have been saying in the mosques his blood is haram (forbidden) and that killing him is good,” said Ahok’s sister and the head of his legal team Fifi Lety Indra last month.
“This is necessary protection and it gives us peace and comfort he’s there.”
— Bela NKRI (@moch_naim) June 29, 2017
— Tyas Laksono (@LaksonoTyas) June 29, 2017
You're still in my heart
— Anita (@anitaset) June 29, 2017
— Bernadeth Helena (@BernadethHelena) June 29, 2017
Both Ahok’s lawyers and prosecutors – who had initially signalled their intent to challenge the sentence handed down – have now withdrawn their appeals.
“Happy birthday Pak. Always be healthy. We miss your hard work,” wrote one netizen.