Jakarta Chris­tian gov­er­nor stands trial for blas­phemy

Pur­nama ac­cused of in­sult­ing the Qu­ran

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Jakarta’s Chris­tian gov­er­nor choked back tears as he gave an im­pas­sioned de­fense against blas­phemy charges yes­ter­day, in a court case that has stoked fears of growing in­tol­er­ance in the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion. Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama—the first Chris­tian to govern the cap­i­tal in more than 50 years—is stand­ing trial ac­cused of in­sult­ing the Qu­ran, an of­fence that car­ries a five-year jail term.

The gov­er­nor has apol­o­gized for his con­tro­ver­sial re­marks, which an­gered Mus­lims across In­done­sia and drew hun­dreds of thou­sands to the streets of Jakarta in protests larger than any seen in nearly two decades. Fac­ing court for the first time, the gov­er­nor gave an emo­tion­ally charged de­fense against the charges, paus­ing sev­eral times to com­pose him­self as he main­tained his in­no­cence. “I know I have to re­spect the holy verses of the Qu­ran. I do not un­der­stand how I can be said to have of­fended Is­lam,” Pur­nama said, oc­ca­sion­ally dab­bing his eyes with a hand­ker­chief.

Pur­nama, bet­ter known by his nick­name Ahok, ig­nited a firestorm of crit­i­cism in Septem­ber when he quoted the Is­lamic holy text while cam­paign­ing ahead of elec­tions for the Jakarta gov­er­nor­ship. The gov­er­nor ac­cused his op­po­nents of us­ing a Qu­ranic verse, which sug­gests Mus­lims should not choose non-Mus­lims as lead­ers, in or­der to trick peo­ple into vot­ing against him.

Pol­i­tics at play

Pros­e­cu­tor Ali Mukartono said the gov­er­nor had “spo­ken a lie” and in­sulted Mus­lims, ad­ding In­done­sia’s top cler­i­cal coun­cil had de­clared his re­marks blas­phe­mous. But lawyers for the gov­er­nor said their client never in­tended to com­mit blas­phemy, and ex­pressed con­cern that Pur­nama’s case was be­ing rushed. Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo and po­lice, un­der pres­sure as pro­test­ers massed in Novem­ber, promised to re­solve the case quickly. Crit­ics say the con­tro­versy is as much about pol­i­tics as re­li­gion, as the gov­er­nor’s foes whip up anger to re­duce his sup­port ahead of a hotly con­tested poll in Fe­bru­ary.

Pur­nama is run­ning against two Mus­lim can­di­dates in elec­tions for city hall. He had long been the fa­vorite to win the elec­tion ow­ing to the pop­u­lar­ity of his no-non­sense style and de­ter­mi­na­tion to clean up Jakarta, a crowded, pol­luted me­trop­o­lis of 10 mil­lion. But the scan­dal has eroded his chances of vic­tory, with his op­po­nents gain­ing ground since Pur­nama was named a sus­pect for blas­phemy in Novem­ber. Pur­nama said he was raised a Chris­tian but sur­rounded by Mus­lims, in­clud­ing fam­ily friends, who had played an enor­mous men­tor­ship role in his life from when he was a child to adult­hood.

The al­le­ga­tions that he had of­fended their re­li­gion hurt him very deeply. “I am very sad,” he said, his voice crack­ing. “This ac­cu­sa­tion is the same as say­ing I have of­fended my god par­ents and sib­lings, whom I love and they love me back.” He also listed the many ser­vices he had pro­vided for his Is­lamic con­stituents, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of mosques, sup­port for re­li­gious schools and dona­tion of sac­ri­fi­cial cows on sa­cred days. A small band of his sup­port­ers kept vigil out­side the court as a larger con­gre­ga­tion of hard­line Is­lamists chanted “Jail Ahok” and held signs de­pict­ing Pur­nama in prison garb be­hind bars.

“We will con­tinue to fight this, and won’t be pro­voked or in­flu­enced,” one of Pur­nama’s sup­port­ers said. The high-pro­file case has gripped the coun­try. The court­room was sur­rounded by po­lice yes­ter­day, with the pro­ceed­ings be­ing broad­cast live on na­tional tele­vi­sion. The case has em­bold­ened hard­lin­ers, an­a­lysts say, who have long op­posed a Chris­tian as gov­er­nor and have used the blas­phemy scan­dal to push their con­ser­va­tive agenda. Rights groups want In­done­sia’s ar­chaic blas­phemy laws over­hauled, ar­gu­ing they are ex­ploited to per­se­cute mi­nori­ties. The case has ad­journed un­til De­cem­ber 20. — AFP

JAKARTA: Jakarta Gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama, bet­ter known by his nick­name Ahok, looks at pho­tog­ra­phers as he sits in the de­fen­dant’s chair dur­ing his trial at the North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta yes­ter­day. — AFP

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