Jakarta governor to face blasphemy charges, says AGO

Mr Basuki (at right), with his deputy, Mr Djarot Saiful Hidayat, speaking last month to reporters about the blasphemy complaint against him. The two incumbents are defending their posts in Jakarta's gubernatorial election taking place in February.
Mr Basuki (at right), with his deputy, Mr Djarot Saiful Hidayat, speaking last month to reporters about the blasphemy complaint against him. The two incumbents are defending their posts in Jakarta's gubernatorial election taking place in February.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is set to face blasphemy charges in court in the face of mounting pressure from Muslim hardliners.

The Attorney-General's Office (AGO) yesterday said it has studied a dossier put together by the police, and concluded that he has a case to answer for in court.

As for when Mr Basuki, who is better known as Ahok and is now running for re-election, may appear in court, Deputy Attorney-General Noor Rachmad would only say that the AGO will "prepare and complete the indictments for this case as soon as possible".

If found guilty of blasphemy, he could be jailed for up to five years, but the case against him is still in its early phases, said lawyers.

The Straits Times understands that the AGO must file the indictments against Mr Basuki, 50, at a district court before a senior judge can appoint a panel of three judges to hear the case. This means it could be weeks before the case is heard.

In the meantime, the Chinese-Christian politician is free to carry on his re-election campaign.

Lawyers have said that Mr Basuki can remain in office until the Court of Appeal process has been exhausted if he is re-elected in February but is convicted of blasphemy.

Mr Basuki is in a three-way fight in February's gubernatorial election in Indonesia's capital. Initially a hot favourite, he has seen his popularity dip after a video clip of him talking to a group of 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.

Despite apologising, his remarks incensed hardline Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which staged a large-scale protest to call for his arrest last month following a smaller street march in October.

The FPI has planned another street rally tomorrow and promised to mobilise even more than the 100,000 people said to have attended the public protest on Nov 4.

The group, however, has brokered a deal with police to have protesters gather for a mass prayer on the grounds of the National Monument (Monas).

Issues of race and religion have threatened to turn the upcoming gubernatorial election into a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Tensions arising from the case against Mr Basuki have prompted several leaders in the country to call for national unity.

The latest came from National Police chief Tito Karnavian, who said during a community event at Monas yesterday that it is only "through unity that we can protect Indonesia". The event - Nusantara Bersatu, which means unity of the archipelago in Bahasa Indonesia - was attended by students, soldiers, police officers, members from religious communities and civil servants.

Besides General Tito, armed forces chief Gatot Nurmantyo, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa and Ms Yenny Wahid, who is the daughter of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, were also at the event.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta governor to face blasphemy charges, says AGO'. Print Edition | Subscribe