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Jakarta ex-governor freed from prison after blasphemy sentence

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Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced to two years' jail but released early after remission totalling 3¬Ĺ months for good behaviour.

[JAKARTA] Jakarta's former governor has been released from prison, his assistant said Thursday, nearly two years after his blasphemy conviction fanned fears over religious intolerance in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - the Indonesian capital's first non-Muslim governor in half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader - left Mako Brimob prison in Depok, outside Jakarta, at around 7.30am local time, Ima Mahdiah told AFP.

Supporters of the former governor, who is popularly known as Ahok, gathered outside the prison, chanting and cheering his new-found freedom.

The release ends one of the most tumultuous chapters in Indonesian politics in recent memory.

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Purnama had been a popular politician who won praise for trying to clean up the traffic-clogged megacity and clamp down on corruption before his imprisonment.

But his downfall came quickly after comments he made on the campaign trail during a re-election bid saw him accused of insulting Islam.

The filmed remarks, which went viral online, sparked mass protests in Jakarta, spearheaded by radical groups opposed to a non-Muslim leader and encouraged by his political rivals.

He lost the election to a Muslim challenger and was then sentenced to two years' jail in May 2017.

It was an unusually harsh sentence - prosecutors had only recommended probation for the now 52-year-old.

"He was picked up by his son Nicholas Sean Purnama" after being released, his assistant Mahdiah said. "He will spend time with his family first, resting."

Purnama's case drew international headlines and a wave of criticism, including from the United Nations, which urged the country of 260 million to revise its decades-old blasphemy law.

The charge against him centred on a remark he made to voters about his Muslim rivals using a Koranic verse to trick people into voting against him, which judges ruled amounted to blasphemy against Islam.

The huge demonstrations calling for Purnama's jailing fuelled concerns about the growing influence of religious hardliners and that the Southeast Asian country's much-vaunted tolerant brand of Islam was under threat.

Indonesia's blasphemy law states that anyone found guilty of "expressing feelings of hostility" towards religion can be jailed for up to five years.

It applies to any of the six officially recognised religions, including Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, but most prosecutions are brought against people accused of blaspheming Islam, which is followed by nearly 90 per cent of the population.

Among them was an ethnic Chinese Buddhist woman found guilty in August of insulting Islam for asking her neighbourhood mosque to lower the volume on its sound system. She was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The woman's comments about the mosque noise triggered riots in 2016 that saw angry Muslim mobs ransack Buddhist temples.

Some ethnic Chinese in the area fled in fear.

AFP