JAKARTA, Jan 3 — Jakarta’s Christian governor today shouted at an Islamic hardliner testifying against him in dramatic scenes at his blasphemy trial, seen as a test of religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Hundreds of supporters and opponents of governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama rowdily traded insults as they rallied outside the hearing in the Indonesian capital, with thousands of police deployed to prevent clashes.
The first Christian to govern the capital in more than 50 years, Purnama is on trial accused of blasphemy over remarks he made about the Quran while campaigning ahead of February elections for the Jakarta governorship.
Hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims have protested against the leader, known by his nickname Ahok, in recent months in the largest demonstrations in Indonesia in years, but he denies insulting Islam and his supporters say the case is politically motivated.
Purnama, who faces up to five years in jail if found guilty, went on trial last month for blasphemy and at the latest hearing today members of hardline group the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) — which has spearheaded the protest movement — testified against him.
“I reported the suspect (to the police) because he insulted the Quran,” Muhsin Alattas, head of the FPI’s Jakarta branch, told the hearing.
But as the witness was questioned, Purnama — known for his short temper — began to shout at him.
“Who has given FPI the authority to speak on behalf of all Muslims?... many Muslims don’t like FPI,” he said.
“Just ask the FPI,” the witness responded during the hearing, which was taking place in an auditorium at the agriculture ministry after being moved from a Jakarta court for security reasons.
In his comments in September, Purnama 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.
The case, which is expected to take several more weeks, has sparked concerns about growing intolerance in Indonesia where a reputation for pluralism has been eroded by a surge in attacks on minorities. — AFP