Choking back tears, Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama yesterday pleaded not guilty to blasphemy, arguing that he had no intention of insulting Islam when he addressed constituents at a community event in September.
"I had not intended to interpret Al-Maidah, what more intended to insult Islam and the Muslim clerics," he said, referring to a verse in the Quran.
The 50-year-old, who is seeking re-election, had allegedly cited the Quran and told residents in Kepulauan Seribu district not to be misled by his opponents, who claimed that the Holy Book forbids Muslims from electing a non-Muslim leader. A video of the event posted online has since gone viral.
"The remarks were meant for unscrupulous politicians who used the Al-Maidah verse incorrectly because they did not want to compete fairly in the election," the Governor added.
Basuki, or Ahok as he is better known, was reading his seven-page objection to the charges from a written submission before a panel of five judges from the North Jakarta District Court, as the high-profile case kicked off amid heightened security in the Indonesian capital.
Basuki, a Chinese Christian, listed his contributions to the Muslim community, from helping to build mosques to letting Muslim staff go home early during Ramadan so that they could break fast and perform the evening Terawih prayers.
The normally tough-talking governor turned emotional when he spoke about his adoptive parents, pious Muslims who had treated him like their own son.
His adoptive brother even paid for part of his university education.
"It would make me an ingrate had I been disrespectful of (their) religion and holy books," he said.
"I am very sad that I have been accused of insulting Islam because the allegations are tantamount to saying I defamed my own adoptive parents and siblings whom I love, and are very dear to me," he added.
Basuki is now in a three-way fight against Mr Agus Harimurti, son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Mr Anies Baswedan, former education and culture minister, in the gubernatorial polls to be held next February.
But the blasphemy case has overshadowed his election campaign and threatened religious tolerance in the country.
Three protests by Muslim conservatives have been staged in as many months against the Governor, demanding that he be arrested and jailed. More than 100,000 turned up for a Nov 4 protest, which turned violent and left several people injured.
Yesterday, chief prosecutor Ali Mukartonosaid Basuki had "deliberately expressed or committed an act of hostility, abuse or desecration of a religion in public".
"He also expressed feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt to one or a group of Indonesians," he said.
But Basuki has denied this.
"Perhaps my language might have given the perception or interpretation that is inconsistent with what I had intended, or meant, when I spoke at Kepulauan Seribu," he said.
He said that he has "lived among Muslims" and it is his "goal to improve the welfare of Muslims" if he is elected as governor again.
Quoting the words of his late Muslim adoptive mother, he said: "Mother had prayed and said... 'My child, be a governor that serves the common people.' "
The hearing will continue next Tuesday, when the prosecution is expected to submit its arguments.