Police on high alert ahead of Tuesday's court hearing against Jakarta Governor Ahok

An Indonesian carries a placard 'arrest and prosecute Ahok' during a mass protest against allegedly blasphemous remark made by Jakarta's Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, at the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta, Indonesia,
An Indonesian carries a placard 'arrest and prosecute Ahok' during a mass protest against allegedly blasphemous remark made by Jakarta's Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, at the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Dec 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA - Indonesian police are on high alert on Monday (Dec 12), the day before Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama appears in court for the first time to face blasphemy charges - allegations of which have fuelled protests by Muslim hardliners in recent months.

The heightened security comes even as Muslims across the country are observing Maulid, a public holiday marking the birth of Prophet Muhammad.

Although security is usually stepped up during this time of the year due to past attacks targeting Christmas and New Year celebrations, there are now increased concerns due to the discovery of two new terrorist cells, in as many weeks, with plans to attack targets in the capital city, including the Presidential Palace.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said the police will adopt additional security measures to secure the city during the hearing on Tuesday morning.

Police officers will be stationed at various checkpoints leading to the Central Jakarta District Court, including a shopping complex nearby, to ensure security and smooth traffic, the spokesman said, but declined to reveal the number of officers that will be deployed.

 
 
 
 

Mr Basuki, better known as Ahok, is standing trial for controversial remarks he made during a meeting with people in the district of Kepulauan Seribu in North Jakarta.

The Chinese-Christian politician has not made many public comments on the upcoming court session, except to express his hope that the hearing will be open to the public and be conducted fairly and with transparency.

Mr Basuki is currently in a three-way fight in February's gubernatorial election. He was expected to be a shoo-in for the election before a video clip of him talking to the group in Kepulauan Seribu 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.

The court charges over blasphemy came after police and state prosecutors - under pressure from Muslim hardliner groups - accelerated the case against Mr Basuki. The government has a team of at least 13 prosecutors working on his indictment in what will be a closely watched trial.

The case has fuelled protests by Muslim hardliners in Indonesia. More than 200,000 of them gathered at the National Monument (Monas) on Dec 2 to rally against the governor. It was the third anti-Ahok protest in as many months, organised by the National Fatwa Guardians of the Indonesian Ulema Council (GNPF-MUI) and led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

Indonesian security agencies had also warned that elements from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were among the participants of the mass protests.

Analysts have said that the protests and court action against Mr Basuki have turned next year's elections into a test of racial and religious tolerance in the Muslim-majority country.

Human rights activists have also urged the court to maintain its impartiality during the hearing, pointing to "mob rule" as a key issue.

"The judges should have the guts to stay independent, fend off attempts at intervention and not bow to public pressure," activist Mohammad Monib said in a Jakarta Globe news report. "The trial should be fair and transparent."