JAKARTA - A tearful governor of Jakarta said during his blasphemy trial on Tuesday (Dec 13) that he did not intend to insult the Quran, as more than a thousand people including Muslim hardliners protested outside the courthouse demanding his arrest.
Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, said he did not intend any insult when he made comments about his election opponents' use of the Quran.
"I had not intended to interpret Al-Maidah (Quran 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," said the 50-year-old governor, who is popularly known as Ahok.
"Perhaps my language might have given the perception or interpretation that is inconsistent with what I had intended, or meant, when I spoke."
Mr Basuki said he had contributed to the Muslim community, such as supporting programs to build mosques. He said he has many Muslim friends and even his adoptive parents are pious Muslims. His adoptive Muslim brother even paid for his college education.
"I am very sad that I've 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.
The hearing had been adjourned to next Tuesday (Dec 20) for the prosecution to respond to his submissions
A video that went viral showed the governor - who is seeking re-election next year - allegedly telling constituents during a community event in September not to be duped by his opponents who had referred to a verse in the Quran to stop Muslims from voting for non-Muslim leaders.
Mr Basuki had apologised previously for his remarks, but police went ahead with investigations in a bid to defuse tensions.
The governor is running for a second term in the gubernatorial election next February in a three-corner contest against Mr Agus Harimurti, son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Mr Anies Baswedan, former education and culture minister.
Mr Basuki, who had enjoyed a lead in opinion polls, saw his ratings slipping after police named him a suspect on Nov 16, following a huge protest led by Muslim hardliners which turned violent.
More than 100,000 Muslims took to the streets of Jakarta on Nov 4 demanding that he be sacked or jailed for allegedly insulting Islam. The Muslim conservatives staged another rally on Dec 2, a largely peaceful one with a turnout of 200,000 at the National Monument in Jakarta.
On Tuesday, 2,000 police were deployed to secure the area around the courthouse, with roads in front choked with supporters, reporters as well as Muslim conservatives in white robes and matching skull caps, shouting “Arrest Ahok!”
Despite the heat, Mr Basuki remains hugely popular among Jakartans, who said he had cleaned up the city, clamped down on vice and resolved city problems like flooding.
On Monday, he apologised to Muslims again, saying he was “only human with weaknesses”. He said: “I ask that the door of pardon is opened wide for me.”