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Emotions Swirl as Blasphemy Trial Begins in Indonesia against Christian Governor ‘Ahok’

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(Morning Star News) – The blasphemy trial of Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama began [on Tueday], with the ethnic Chinese Christian breaking into tears inside the courtroom while hundreds of people protested outside.

Some 2,000 police officers kept anti-Ahok and pro-Ahok protestors apart outside the heavily guarded court. Those opposing Ahok chanted, “Jail Ahok, jail Ahok, jail Ahok now.”

A panel of judges will hear from 30 witnesses and see 50 pieces of evidence regarding the charge of defaming the Koran. The trial, which is being televised live, is being rushed through the court and is expected to conclude early in 2017. 

Reporting from Jakarta, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) correspondent Adam Harvey noted that Ahok looked deeply anxious as he entered the courtroom.

“He can see the writing on the wall,” Harvey opined.

Ahok broke down in tears twice as he testified. Insisting that he would never intentionally insult the Koran or hurt Muslims, he spoke of his deep affection for his Muslim godparents, and he recalled how he helped poor Indonesians to perform the Hajj pilgrimage when he was a district chief a decade ago.

“As a person who grew up among Muslims, it is not possible for me to intentionally insult Islam because that is the same as disrespecting the people I appreciate and love,” Ahok reportedly said.

Once the clear frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, recent opinion polls indicate that Ahok has now slipped to second place behind Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The gubernatorial race may be the last thing on Ahok’s mind now. If found guilty, which most analysts believe he will be, Ahok faces up to five years in prison. Analysts believe his career, his liberty – and possibly even his life – are at stake.

Fired Up

Using crude, racist and provocative terms, Muslim cleric Habib Muhsin Alathas referred to Ahok as a “son of Satan” and re-asserted the koranic/Islamic principle that Christians should never have authority over Muslims at a rally over the weekend, according to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report.

“Some of you come to the headquarters of the pig’s pimple, shaking hands with him, and even kiss his hand,” he said as chronicled by ABC’s Harvey. “You have been kissing the hand of someone who is not circumcised – you’re better off kissing a goat’s arse … So, if this thin eyes [derogatory Indonesian term for the Chinese] does not go in jail, we will go out onto the street once more, right?”

Australia National University associate professor Greg Fealy, an Indonesia expert, told ABC that while he does not believe Ahok has blasphemed, “there’s probably no way out for him now, except to go through this court process, which is very likely to find him guilty I suspect.”

Likewise, professor Tim Lindsay of Melbourne Law School said he expects Ahok will be convicted. Not only has a fatwa been issued against him, but the massive rallies have terrified authorities, he reportedly said. Consequently, Lindsay expects judges to be influenced by public opinion and pay little attention to evidence.

The charge stems from a speech Ahok made to city officials on Sept. 27, when he said,

“Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me because you’ve been lied to [or fooled] with Surat Almaidah 51 [Sura 5:51] and the like. That’s your right. If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell, because you’ve been lied to [or fooled], no worries. That’s your personal right. These programs will go forward. So you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Follow your conscience, you don’t have to vote for Ahok.” (translation by Sidney Jones)

Video footage of the speech went viral on YouTube, and Islamic extremists claimed Ahok had blasphemed against the Koran and Islamic clerics. Ahok on Oct. 10 apologized “to all Muslims and anyone who felt offended,” saying it was not his intention to slight Islam or the Koran.

The court has been adjourned until Dec. 20.

World Watch Monitor reported that Christians, activist groups and moderate Muslim politicians have expressed solidarity with minority religious and ethnic groups against the tide of growing intolerance.

The Ahok case is one of a series of incidents that have seen radicals challenge secular political and civil affairs. In August, a teenage man attacked a priest with an axe during a Mass in Medan, North Sumatra, and failed to detonate a bomb in his backpack. Earlier this month, a two-year-old child died and three other young children were injured when a man threw petrol bombs at a Protestant church in East Kalimantan Province. Some Indonesian Christians said they fear the attack was connected to Ahok’s case.

Two terrorism experts said last week that a five-year national de-radicalisation programme had not succeeded in reducing extremism. Analysts have been especially concerned by moderate Muslims’ hostility towards Ahok. Earlier this month, tens of thousands of moderate Muslims rallied alongside hardliners. The Muslim Times ran an opinion piece arguing that Ahok losing his blasphemy case could be the tipping point for a republic once upheld as a model of pluralism and stable democracy in a shift towards a more conservative form of Islam.

From 2004 to 2014, blasphemy cases in Indonesia had a 100 per cent conviction rate. Human rights campaigner Andreas Harsono voiced concerns that the accusation may be being used as a “political tool” to derail Ahok’s re-election campaign.

For Christians, much hangs in the balance. Some see their on-going security and freedom tied to the fate of the accused governor of Jakarta. With a lengthy legal process ahead for Ahok, the coming months could hold much uncertainty for them as well.

Please pray for our brothers and sister in Indonesia.

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