Jakarta governor says sorry again ahead of blasphemy trial

Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaking to the media in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Dec 1, 2016.
Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaking to the media in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Dec 1, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

Embattled Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama yesterday apologised again for his remarks, which Muslim hardliners had deemed an insult to Islam, just a day before he is set to appear in court for the first time to face blasphemy charges.

"We humans are not perfect, we have many shortcomings, therefore, I apologise," said Mr Basuki, 50, addressing Muslim devotees observing Maulid, which marks the birth of Prophet Muhammad.

His comments came amid heightened security in the capital, with thousands of his supporters, as well as detractors, expected to show up at the Central Jakarta District Court today, where his case will be heard.

The hearing also follows the arrest of a group of seven terrorists - including two women who were planning to carry out suicide bombings - over the last three days.

This was the second of two new terrorist cells, uncovered by the police in as many weeks, which had plans to attack targets with military-grade explosives in Jakarta, including the Presidential Palace.

 
 

Jakarta police spokesman Suyatno told The Jakarta Post yesterday that at least 2,000 officers will be deployed to beef up security during the court hearing. They will also be stationed at various checkpoints leading to the courthouse, including at a shopping complex nearby, to ensure security and smooth traffic, added another police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

The state has a team of at least 13 prosecutors working on Mr Basuki's indictment, in what will be a closely watched trial.

The Chinese-Christian politician yesterday expressed his hope that the hearing will be conducted fairly and with transparency. "I pray that God will allow the hearing to go on smoothly," he said.

Mr Basuki, who is better known as Ahok, is currently in a three-way contest to be re-elected as Jakarta governor.

He was expected to be a shoo-in to win the polls in February, until a video clip of him talking to constituents in September was posted online. In the video, he allegedly told them not to be misled by his opponents, who cited a verse in the Quran to urge Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim.

The blasphemy charges came after the police and state prosecutors - under pressure from Muslim hardline groups - accelerated the case against him.

More than 200,000 Muslims gathered on Dec 2 to rally against Mr Basuki. It was the third anti- Ahok protest in as many months, that was led by the National Fatwa Guardians of the Indonesian Ulema Council and Islamic Defenders Front.

Human rights watchers have urged the court not to give in to "mob rule". "The trial should be fair and transparent," inter-faith activist Mohammad Monib told Jakarta Globe news website yesterday.

Analysts said the street protests and court action against Mr Basuki have turned next year's gubernatorial election into a test of racial and religious tolerance in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country.

If found guilty, Mr Basuki can be jailed for up to five years, but lawyers said he may still be able to remain as governor if he wins the election - as long as he is not given the maximum sentence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta governor says sorry again ahead of blasphemy trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe