Indonesia: In Emotional Testimony, Jakarta Governor Denies Blasphemy

Arie Firdaus
2016.12.13
Jakarta
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161213-ID-ahok-1000 Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama gestures after the first day of his trial on blasphemy charges in North Jakarta District Court, Dec. 13, 2016.
AFP

Jakarta’s governor teared up on the first day of his blasphemy trial as he told the court Tuesday that he did not believe he had uttered offensive words against Islam, Indonesia’s main religion.

Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama testified at the North Jakarta Distict Court that he never intended to offend Muslims during a speech in the Thousand Islands regency near Jakarta on Sept. 27, in which he cited Surah Al-Maida Verse 51 from the Quran.

Some have interpreted the passage as barring Muslims from having non-Muslim leaders. Ahok is running in the February 2017 gubernatorial elections for Indonesia’s capital region. While campaigning for the governor’s race, he has faced virulent calls from conservative Muslim groups and mass street protests calling for his prosecution over his alleged anti-Islam comments.

A Christian and member of the ethnic Chinese minority, Ahok told the court about how he grew up in a Muslim family.

“The love of my adoptive parents remains strong,” Ahok said, tearing up as he read his statement.

“I would be like a person who does not know how to be grateful, if I don’t respect the religion and the holy book of my adoptive parents and my adoptive older siblings who are devoted Muslims,” he said.

Shortly after Chief Judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto opened the trial, prosecutor Ali Mukartono read out the charge for violating Indonesia’s blasphemy law. If convicted, Ahok could face up to five years in prison.

Ahok, an associate of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and who was his deputy when Jokowi served as Jakarta’s governor, does not face a charge under Indonesia’s Information and Electronic Transactions law as previously reported.

‘Our adopted brother’

As the court session ended around noon, Ahok sat in silence. A woman wearing a hijab, his half-sister Nana Riwayatie, came in and hugged him.

Her late father, Andi Baso Amir, was a friend of Ahok’s father and each had promised to be brothers to each other, said Nana’s biological brother, Andi Baso Analta Amir.

“So it’s yes, Ahok is our adopted brother. That’s why we paid for his (postgraduate) school and we take care of him,” the television program Liputan 6 quoted Andi Baso Analta Amir as saying on the homepage of a website.

Ahok himself testified about how his adopted family paid for his schooling in Jakarta.

The trial that was live-streamed online drew pro- and anti-Ahok demonstrators.

Anti-Ahok protesters gathered outside the court, carrying banners and posters calling for him to be locked up. They yelled that he be arrested and chanted “Allahu Akbar!”

“He claimed that his mouth never hurt Muslims. That’s what Ahok said in tears in the courtroom,” said Muhammad Al-Khotot, the secretary of the Islamic Forum, drawing cheers from anti-Ahok protesters.

“In fact, my brothers, I watched a video uploaded by the Jakarta Communications and Information Department where Ahok shows himself as manly, Al-Khotot said, as he mocked Ahok for crying in the courtroom.

Central Jakarta Police spokesman Commissioner Suyanto said the government had deployed about 2,000 personnel to secure the trial, as well as eight police tactical vehicles including four with water cannons. The vehicles were placed between the supporters and protesters.

Previously, tens of thousands had attended protests against Ahok in Jakarta. The most recent protest, on Dec. 2, remained peaceful while a similar one a month earlier turned violent after nightfall.

Scores of anti-Ahok protestors rally outside the North Jakarta District Courthouse, Dec. 13, 2016. (Arie Firdaus/BenarNews)

‘Premature’

After the court adjourned, Ahok left the courthouse and got into a police cruiser without making any comments. The trial is to resume Dec. 20 when prosecutors are to respond to an objection by Ahok’s attorney that the indictment against him is not legal.

“He cannot be prosecuted under (the blasphemy law) before he got an admonition,” lawyer I. Wayan Sudirta said.

“The rule has not been revoked and therefore it is subject to the legal basis of the case. This trial is premature,” he added.

Prosecutor Mukartono told reporters that his team had a different perception of the law.

“We will explain next week,” he said.

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