Media barred from attending Ahok's blasphemy trial

Police officers trying to calm down protesters who gathered to demonstrate against Jakarta governor Ahok (above) outside the trial venue yesterday.
Police officers trying to calm down protesters who gathered to demonstrate against Jakarta governor Ahok outside the trial venue yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Police officers trying to calm down protesters who gathered to demonstrate against Jakarta governor Ahok (above) outside the trial venue yesterday.
Police officers trying to calm down protesters who gathered to demonstrate against Jakarta governor Ahok (above) outside the trial venue yesterday.

The media was locked out yesterday on the first day of the blasphemy trial of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Journalists, photographers and television cameramen were told to leave before the trial started. Court spokesman Didik Wuryanto said to local media that it was to prevent witnesses from listening in to one another's testimonies.

This was after a five-judge panel ruled that journalists would not be allowed in. It was also decided that members of the public allowed into the courtroom had to leave their cellphones behind.

Basuki's lawyers said in a statement that the witness testimonies were "very subjective, baseless, and based on personal assumptions with a tendency towards slander due to personal interests".

The 50-year-old governor, who is seeking re-election, had allegedly cited the Quran and told residents in Kepulauan Seribu district last September not to be misled by his opponents, who claimed that Islam's holy book forbids Muslims from electing a non-Muslim leader. A video of the event posted online has since gone viral.

 

In the gubernatorial election on Feb 15, Basuki is facing a three-way contest against Mr Agus Harimurti, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Mr Anies Baswedan, a former education and culture minister.

The venue of the trial was moved from the Central Jakarta District Court to the Agriculture Ministry auditorium in the south of the capital over security concerns.

Basuki, also known as Ahok, has denied the blasphemy allegations. He could be jailed for up to five years if convicted.

Besides witnesses, experts proposed by both the prosecution and the defence are also expected to testify before judges issue a verdict.

The media culled its reports from the accounts of those in the courtroom. A hardliner from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) testified yesterday that Ahok had deliberately insulted Islam. According to Agence France-Presse, Basuki responded: "Who has given FPI the authority to speak on behalf of all Muslims?... Many Muslims don't like FPI."

One witness, Mr Novel Chaidir Hasan Bamukmin, secretary of the advisory council of the Jakarta branch of FPI, claimed Basuki had defamed Islam repeatedly, including in 2012. He was among witnesses from the National Fatwa Guardians of the Indonesian Ulema Council, which is dominated by hardline organisations, including the FPI.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Media barred from attending Ahok's blasphemy trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe