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Indonesia court to proceed with blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s governor

JAKARTA (Reuters) An Indonesian court will proceed with a controversial blasphemy trial against Jakarta’s Christian governor, who is accused of insulting the Koran, a judge said on Tuesday, a case seen as a test of religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation.

A panel of judges rejected a call by lawyers defending Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama to strike down the case because it had violated the ethnic Chinese politician’s human rights and breached procedures.

“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,” said Judge Abdul Rosyad.

A tearful Purnama denied at his first hearing on Dec. 13 that he had intended to insult the Koran while he was campaigning ahead of elections in February for the governorship of Jakarta, capital of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

Hundreds of white-clad Muslim protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) outside the court in north Jakarta on Tuesday and called for the jailing of the governor, known by his nickname Ahok.

“Blasphemy is not acceptable in Indonesia. No religion should be insulted,” said Mafut Rudiah, a protester standing outside the courtroom, which was flanked by lines of police.

Standing among a smaller group of the governor’s supporters, Kisab Tocakroyo said: “As a fellow Muslim, I think we should forgive him if he has apologised.”

The presiding judge on the panel, Dwiyarso Budi Santiarto, said the defence could appeal to a higher court if they did not agree with the decision to proceed with the case.

Purnama, after consulting his lawyers, told the court he would consider doing so.

The next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3 and will be moved to an auditorium in the Agriculture Ministry in the south of the city for security reasons, authorities said.

Purnama was named a suspect after hundreds of thousands of people, led by Muslim hardliners, attended rallies in recent months calling for his arrest.

Blasphemy convictions in Indonesia can carry a jail term of up to five years and such charges nearly always result in conviction.

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

President Joko Widodo, seen as a Purnama ally, has blamed “political actors” for fuelling the protests, but declined to elaborate.

As governor, Purnama has won credit for cutting red tape and improving the performance of Jakarta’s bloated bureaucracy. However, his abrasive language and insistence on clearing city slums has alienated many voters.

After suffering a slide in support in opinion polls, Purnama has rebounded to become the frontrunner again in the election race to lead Jakarta, according to a poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute earlier this month.

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  • And this is why the separation of church and state are absolutely necessary for a free and democratic society. Without such guarantees, it makes it very easy for a largely secular and multicultural nation to slide into sectarian oppression.

  • What’s scary is that offhand remark not meant to insult would cause over 150,000 Muslims gather (from all over) at a rally and call for his arrest and punishment. Don’t they have jobs and families? All over the world the message is the same: insult Islam and you pay the price be it prison, caning or death. A textbook case of intolerance.

  • The NY Times Dec 13 article lets me know at least what was the subject of his remarks, and very significantly points to a page that explains in detail how that verse should be taken in context with many other verses in that same book. I wonder how many of the protesters have actually read those verses.

  • Religious things like blasphemy and heresy are strange excuses to persecute others. Why do some people really care about that stuff?

  • ” …this is why the separation of church and state are absolutely necessary…”

    Agreed. I sense that religion’s good side can be corrupted by its bad side and modern and civilized communities don’t want to be tainted by it.

  • Religion when mixed with politics always results in sectarian discrimination. This was a well established truth recognized by Roger Williams in the 17th century and remains current. The wall of separation of church and state protects the integrity of both.

    This article is proof positive how an official established faith is used for entirely petty political ends.

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