Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Indonesian Blasphemy Trial Begins

By Elizabeth Kendal

Updating previous post: Ahok's Blasphemy, 29 November; and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 383, Indonesia: 'Blasphemy' fuels tensions, 9 November.

Jakarta's Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama
in the defendant's chair, 13 Dec 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The blasphemy trial against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama commenced this morning [Tuesday 13 December].

Outside the heavily guarded court, hundreds of anti- and pro-Ahok supporters protested, kept apart by some 2,000 police. Anti-Ahok forces chanted, “Jail Ahok, jail Ahok, jail Ahok now”.

The panel of judges will hear from 30 witnesses and see 50 pieces of evidence. The trial, which is being televised live, is being rushed through the court and expected to conclude early in the New Year.

Fired Up

At a rally over the weekend, attended by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey, the cleric Habib Muhsin Alathas re-asserted the Qur’anic/Islamic principle that Christians should never have authority over Muslims. Referring to Ahok as “the son of Satan”, he railed against the governor using crude, racist and provocative terms.

“Some of you come to the headquarters of the pig’s pimple, shaking hands with him, and even kiss his hand,” he said. “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 [Indonesian sarcasm for the Chinese] does not go in jail, we will go out onto the street once more, right?”

Australia National University's (ANU) Indonesia expert, Associate Professor Greg Fealy told the 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 Melbourne Law School expects Ahok will be convicted, for not only has a fatwa has been issued, but the massive rallies have terrified the authorities. Consequently, he expects the judges will run with public opinion without paying much attention to the evidence.

Writing on the Wall

Reporting from Jakarta, ABC Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey noted that Ahok looked deeply anxious as he entered the court. Harvey opined, “He can see the writing on the wall.”

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

Once the clear front-runner 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.

But the gubernatorial race is doubtless 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.

The court has now adjourned until Tuesday 20 December.


Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com