Crucial to ensure fair trial for Jakarta Governor Ahok: The Jakarta Post

Indonesian protesters chant in front of a poster of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as they march down the capital city's main street after a demonstration at Jakarta's National Monument Park on Dec 2, 2016.
Indonesian protesters chant in front of a poster of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as they march down the capital city's main street after a demonstration at Jakarta's National Monument Park on Dec 2, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Dec 11, the paper reminds the judiciary and authorities to take all steps necessary to ensure a fair trial for Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama.

The credibility of the country's judiciary will be put to test yet again when the North Jakarta District Court begins on Tuesday the much-awaited trial of non-active Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who has been charged with blasphemy.

The challenge facing the panel of judges, that will be presided over by the district court chief judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, is undoubtedly daunting, given the mounting public pressure that has been evident in two large-scale rallies over the past month to demand that the Christian, Chinese-Indonesian, governor be imprisoned for his words, which the protesters deem as an insult to Islam.

Just a reminder, the police only named Ahok a suspect following the Nov. 4 rally. And reportedly the decision was made through a split decision. Later that day, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who failed to fulfill the protesters' demand to meet with him, ordered the police to carry out a swift, transparent investigation into the blasphemy case.

Knowing the high-profile nature of the case, law enforcers indeed worked fast, and state prosecutors handed over the case dossier of Ahok's blasphemy charges to the court within two weeks on Dec 1, the eve of the second mass demonstration.

It is difficult to deny that the investigation and prosecution of Ahok is the fruit of persistent pressure from a large public movement, which is comprised of various groups with their own agendas and which are only united by their common interest.

The police have arrested a number of people and named them suspects for allegedly plotting to use the rally to overthrow the government.

Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo has played down the pressure, saying that law enforcers had only worked fast to respond to the public's wishes as soon as possible and comply with the principles of a quick, simple and inexpensive trial, which has so far remained elusive.

Still the rapid measures have not pleased the anti-Ahok groups, who have openly questioned the law enforcers' decision not to arrest the governor, who is now torn between his bid to win the election in February and the blasphemy case. Some have gone so far as insisting that Ahok's acquittal would put national unity in jeopardy.

That Prasetyo and the Jakarta Police have advised that the North Jakarta District Court relocate the court hearing from its temporary premises on Jl. Gadjah Mada in Central Jakarta to the faraway location of Cibubur in East Jakarta only indicates the difficulties facing law enforcement agencies in ensuring security and order during the trial.

Wherever the hearing takes place, security is pivotal to enable the panel of judges and witnesses to remain independent and stick to the facts. Ahok may only be found guilty based on facts, rather than intimidation from those who have convicted Ahok before the trial begins.

To further ensure a fair trial, the Supreme Court should take into consideration the warning from the Judicial Commission, which says a live broadcast of the court hearing could lead to a trial by the public and therefore compromise the independence and integrity of the judges. We have seen this happen before.

* The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media.