Court delays Ahok's blasphemy trial till after election

Right: Protesters marching at a rally against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the capital yesterday. Below: Basuki at the North Jakarta District Court yesterday. He is on trial for blasphemy and faces up to four years' jail if found guilty
Protesters marching at a rally against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the capital yesterday. PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Right: Protesters marching at a rally against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the capital yesterday. Below: Basuki at the North Jakarta District Court yesterday. He is on trial for blasphemy and faces up to four years' jail if found guilty
Basuki at the North Jakarta District Court yesterday. He is on trial for blasphemy and faces up to four years' jail if found guilty.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

JAKARTA • An Indonesian court yesterday adjourned the blasphemy trial of Jakarta's Christian governor until after the city's April 19 election, a contest pitting him against a Muslim rival that has divided the city and fanned religious tension.

The trial of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese and Christian leader, and an ally of President Joko Widodo, has raised questions about the role of religion in politics in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

Basuki, popularly known as Ahok, has been allowed to campaign in the election despite the trial.

Prosecutors had been expected yesterday to call for him to be jailed on a charge of insulting Islam.

Instead, the judges agreed to a request by prosecutors to postpone the hearing to April 20, a day after the election for city governor.

The police had also written to prosecutors to ask for a delay over security concerns.

"We think the police letter can be taken into consideration due to the matter of security," prosecutor Ali Mukartono told the court, referring to the timing of the next hearing.

The prosecution's main reason in asking for a delay was to have more time to prepare, he said.

Jakarta police last week called for the trial to be delayed until after the vote, because of worries that religious and ethnic tensions in Indonesia's capital of more than 10 million people were running high.

Basuki went on trial late last year after some Muslim groups objected to comments he made about his opponents' use of the Quran in campaigning.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, led by hardline groups, have taken to the streets to call for Basuki to be sacked and to urge voters not to elect a non-Muslim.

Some anti-Basuki protesters said they were disappointed with the delay.

"This hearing was delayed deliberately until after the election... The election, a political factor, is affecting this legal process," said Mr Pedri Kasman, a member of moderate Islamic group Muhammadiyah.

Muslims make up nearly 90 per cent of Indonesia's 250 million people, but there are sizeable communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and others who adhere to traditional beliefs.

The state ideology, Pancasila, enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system.

Basuki has apologised for his comments but denied any wrongdoing. If found guilty, he faces up to four years in prison.

Despite his trial, the Jakarta governor enjoys strong public support, because of his efforts to ease chronic traffic congestion and flooding in the city.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Court delays Ahok's blasphemy trial till after election'. Print Edition | Subscribe