Ahok's fiercest critic testifies against him

Mr Rizieq Shihab (in white) testifying as an expert witness on Islam during the blasphemy trial of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (in green) yesterday.
Mr Rizieq Shihab (in white) testifying as an expert witness on Islam during the blasphemy trial of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (in green) yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Controversial cleric claims Jakarta governor insulted religion in bid to win over Muslims

One of Indonesia's most controversial Islamic figures told a district court yesterday that Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had intentionally insulted Islam in his bid to score votes among Muslims.

Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab, testifying as a prosecution witness in the blasphemy trial against the governor, said: "He was trying to influence Muslims not to doubt when voting for him."

The testimony by Mr Rizieq raised eyebrows because he is the governor's fiercest critic.

He also has a string of criminal records, and is currently facing multiple charges - of insulting the national ideology of Pancasila and Christians, making hate speeches and, most recently, spreading pornography.

The charges facing Basuki, who is running for re-election, relate to a speech he delivered in Kepulauan Seribu district last September.

In his address, the Chinese-Christian politician, popularly known as Ahok, cited the Quran when he told residents not to be misled by his opponents, who claimed the Holy Book forbids Muslims from electing a non-Muslim.

Basuki has been on trial since December last year as he campaigned for the gubernatorial election, which is heading into a run-off in April. Neither he nor his closest rival Anies Baswedan won a majority vote in the polls on Feb 15.

The prosecution, on the recommendation of the Indonesian Ulema Council, called on Mr Rizieq as an expert witness on Islam during yesterday's hearing, surprising many people.

Mr Rizieq played a major role in a series of anti-Ahok protests last year, when thousands turned up to rally against the governor.

Those were among the reasons raised by Basuki's defence team when they objected to Mr Rizieq being presented as an expert witness.

"Rizieq has long been involved in activities that promoted deep hatred against Ahok," they said in a submission to the court yesterday.

"Based on the facts, Rizieq has been convicted by the courts on two previous occasions: one for the crime of inciting others to commit violence on June 1, 2000, which led to attacks on groups staging a rally to promote pluralism; and two for the crime of expressing hatred and insult against the State."

Defence counsel Teguh Samudra added that Mr Rizieq's credibility and morality are questionable, and "therefore by law, is not qualified to stand as an expert witness".

However, the court allowed Mr Rizieq to continue on the stand yesterday. But it refused to admit two video clips he tried to tender as evidence to back his allegation that Basuki remained unremorseful for insulting Islam.

Mr Teguh told The Straits Times after the hearing yesterday that the judges have recorded his team's objection against Mr Rizieq as an expert witness.

The hearing will continue next week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Ahok's fiercest critic testifies against him'. Print Edition | Subscribe