State prosecutors file blasphemy charges against Jakarta Governor in district court

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, speaks to the media following a meeting at the Attorney General's office with regards to a blasphemy case in Jakarta on Dec 1, 2016.
Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, speaks to the media following a meeting at the Attorney General's office with regards to a blasphemy case in Jakarta on Dec 1, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The Attorney-General's Office (AGO) has filed blasphemy charges against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in a district court, setting the stage for what is expected to be a divisive sideshow to the upcoming gubernatorial elections.

The move by State prosecutors announced by an AGO spokesman on Thursday (Dec 1), is part of efforts to accelerate the case to cool tensions leading up to a major rally in the grounds of the National Monument (Monas) on Friday morning.

The protest staged by the National Fatwa Guardians of the Indonesian Ulema Council (GNPF-MUI) and led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), has thrust issues of race and religion to the forefront of the upcoming gubernatorial election, turning it into a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.

The AGO's latest move also comes just days after the office had received the case dossier from the police last week.

"We are just waiting for the date for the trial now," said the AGO spokesman.

What is left now is for a senior district judge to appoint a panel of three judges to hear the case, which could happen in the weeks ahead.

 
 

However, Mr Basuki, who is better known as Ahok, is free to carry on his re-election campaign.

If found guilty of blasphemy, the 50-year-old Chinese-Christian politician could be jailed for up to five years, but the case against him is still in its early phases, said lawyers.

Lawyers have also 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, some 600,000 are expected to protest at Monas on Friday, significantly more than the estimated 100,000 who took part in a street march against Mr Basuki a month ago.