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Ex-Jakarta Governor Convicted of Blasphemy Free After Nearly Two Years

Supporters of former Jakarta Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, take selfie in front of wreaths sent by well-wishers outside a police prison in Depok, Indonesia, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

The former governor of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta is free after spending nearly two years in prison on a blasphemy conviction.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname “Ahok,” was greeted by his family and a crowd of cheering supporters when he walked out of a prison on the outskirts of Jakarta early Thursday morning.

Ahok, an ethnic Chinese-Christian, was running for re-election in 2016 when he was captured on video quoting a verse in the Quran to prove to his supporters that there were no restrictions on Muslims voting for non-Muslim politicians.

His statement was edited and widely spread through social media, triggering angry demonstrations by hardline Muslims calling for either his arrest or execution for insulting Islam. Ahok would go on to lose the election in April 2017 by a Muslim challenger who courted the conservative Islamic vote, and was convicted less than a month later on the blasphemy charges.

The conviction generated fears that Indonesia’s reputation as a tolerant, moderate Muslim-dominated nation was being challenged by hardline conservatives seeking to impose a strict form of sharia, or Islamic law.

About 88 percent of Indonesia's 260 million people are Muslim, while the government recognizes five other official religions -- Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.