Court to proceed with Jakarta Governor Ahok's blasphemy trial

Basuki being led into the courtroom in Jakarta yesterday. The ethnic Chinese Christian politician is accused of insulting Muslims by claiming during a campaign rally that his political opponents were using the Quran to sway voters against him.
Basuki being led into the courtroom in Jakarta yesterday. The ethnic Chinese Christian politician is accused of insulting Muslims by claiming during a campaign rally that his political opponents were using the Quran to sway voters against him.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Jakarta Governor accused of insulting Muslims at election rally faces maximum jail term of five years if convicted

An Indonesian court ruled yesterday that it will proceed with the blasphemy trial against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, agreeing with prosecutors that the charges are in line with the law.

Presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said prosecutors do not need evidence of the impact of Basuki's alleged blasphemy to charge him with the offence, which carries a maximum jail term of five years if convicted.

"This is not a verdict to rule on whether the defendant is guilty or not. Today, we decided only on the formality, not the substance of the case," said the judge.

Basuki's team of lawyers, in a statement after the ruling, said he was "a victim of racism and criminalisation", adding: "Although we are disappointed, we do respect the court's decision."

The next hearing is set for Jan 3.

SADDENED

I am very sad that I have been accused of insulting Islam, because the allegations are tantamount to me saying that I have insulted my adoptive parents and siblings, whom I love and who love me.

BASUKI TJAHAJA PURNAMA, Jakarta Governor, who said that his adoptive parents are pious Muslims.

The court's provisional ruling means that it will now invite witnesses and experts proposed by both the prosecution and the defence to testify in subsequent hearings, before judges issue a verdict.

Basuki, an ethnic Chinese Christian politician better known by his nickname Ahok, is accused of insulting Muslims by claiming during an election campaign rally that his political opponents were using the Quran to sway voters against him.

His lawyers had said the indictment was legally flawed, arguing that prosecutors should have presented evidence showing his actions caused damage. The 50-year-old has said he did not intend any insult.

"I had not intended to interpret Al-Maidah (a Quranic verse)... or insult Islam and the Muslim clerics. The remarks were meant for unscrupulous politicians who had used the Al-Maidah verse incorrectly because they did not want to compete fairly in the election," he said in his first appearance in court on Dec 13.

Basuki said he had contributed to the Muslim community, by supporting programmes to build mosques. He said he has many Muslim friends, and his adoptive parents are pious Muslims. His adoptive Muslim brother paid for his college education.

 
 
 

"I am very sad that I have been accused of insulting Islam, because the allegations are tantamount to me saying that I have insulted my adoptive parents and siblings, whom I love and who love me," he said tearfully on Dec 13.

He had apologised previously for his remarks, but police went ahead with investigations in a bid to defuse tensions amid street protests led by Muslim hardliners against him.

The Governor is running for a second term in the Feb 15 gubernatorial election in a three-cornered contest against former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's son Agus Harimurti and former education and culture minister Anies Baswedan.

While Basuki's current term as Jakarta governor will expire in October next year, he could face suspension. President Joko Widodo has the authority to make the call by way of issuing a presidential decree, Mr Anselmus Tan, director-general of regional autonomy at the Home Affairs Ministry, told The Jakarta Post.

The law stipulates that any governor facing a criminal charge that carries a maximum jail term of five years or longer could be suspended from his duties, the Post reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Court to proceed with Ahok's blasphemy trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe