World

Ahok chokes back tears in court

Jakarta governor on trial for blasphemy

JAKARTA Jakarta's governor choked back tears as he gave an impassioned defence against blasphemy charges yesterday.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - the first Christian to govern the Indonesian capital in more than 50 years - is accused of insulting the Quran, an offence that carries a five-year jail term.

The governor, better known by his nickname Ahok, has apologised for his remarks which angered Muslims in Indonesia and drew hundreds of thousands to the streets in the largest protests in nearly two decades.

Facing court for the first time, Ahok gave an emotionally charged defence, pausing several times to compose himself as he maintained his innocence.

He said, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief: "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."

Ahok said he was raised a Christian but was surrounded by Muslims, including family friends, who have played an enormous mentorship role in his life since he was a child. The allegations that he had offended their religion hurt him deeply.

"This accusation is the same as saying I have offended my godparents and siblings, whom I love and love me back," he said.

He also listed the many services he had provided for his Muslim 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 hard-line Islamists chanted "Jail Ahok" and held signs depicting him in prison garb behind bars.

"We will continue to fight this, and won't be provoked or influenced," one of Ahok's supporters said.

SECURITY

The courtroom was surrounded by police yesterday, and the proceedings broadcasted live on television. The case has adjourned until Dec 20.

The case has emboldened hardliners, analysts say, who have long opposed a Christian as governor and have used the blasphemy issue to push their conservative agenda.

Rights groups want Indonesia's archaic blasphemy laws overhauled, arguing they are exploited to persecute minorities.

Ahok ignited a firestorm of criticism in September when he quoted the Quran while campaigning ahead of elections for the Jakarta governorship.He 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.

Prosecutor Ali Mukartono said Ahok 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 the case was being rushed.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and police have promised to resolve the case quickly.

Ahok was a favourite in February elections for city hall, but the case has eroded his chances, with his two Muslim opponents gaining ground. - AFP

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