Ahok blasphemy appeal fails

Happier times. Australian ambassador, Paul Grigson, with Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Source: Flickr  

An Indonesian court will proceed with the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s ethnic-Chinese, Christian governor, who is accused of insulting the Koran.

A panel of judges rejected a call by lawyers for the governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, to dismiss the case, claiming it violated his human rights and breached procedures.

Ahok’s trial has shaken the government and exposed religious and ethnic fault lines in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Outside the court, hundreds of protesters chanted, “God is great”.

“The exception by the defendant will be considered and decided by the court after examination of all evidence. The defendant’s exception is not accepted,” Judge Abdul Rosyad announced.

Ahok, 50, at his first hearing on December 13, wept as he said he had not intended to insult the Islamic holy book while campaigning ahead of his attempt to secure re-election in February.

He light-heartedly referenced verse Al-Maida 51 of the Koran, telling voters they should not be tricked by religious figures using the verse to persuade Muslims not to accept a non-Muslim leader. The clip went viral online.

Islamic groups gathered outside the court to demand Ahok’s incarceration. Ahok, the first Christian to govern the capital in more than 50 years, was named a suspect after hundreds of thousands attended recent rallies calling for his prosecution.

Blasphemy charges in the supposedly secular archipelago can carry a jail term of up to five years and nearly always result in conviction.

Amnesty International has criticised the blasphemy law for undermining freedom of expression and targeting religious minorities.

President Joko Widodo, an ally of Ahok, has blamed “political actors” for fuelling the protests, although he attended one of the anti-Ahok rallies.

A November 4 protest turned violent, with one death and dozens of police and protesters injured.

As governor, Ahok has been praised for cutting bureaucracy and improving the performance of Jakarta’s inefficient bureaucracy. However, his straight talking and work to clear slums has angered many voters.

Ahok has rebounded in popularity to lead the opposition ahead of the February election, according to an Indonesian Survey Institute poll this month.

“I don’t really care that the judges have rejected the governor’s objection. We will still campaign for the governor whatever happens,” Jappy Pellokila, an Ahok supporter, told AFP.

The next hearing was due on January 3 and would be held in the agriculture ministry for security reasons and because a larger courtroom was required, the authorities said.