JAKARTA: The head of an Indonesian Muslim hardline group insisted Tuesday that Jakarta’s Christian governor had committed blasphemy as he gave evidence at the city leader’s trial.
Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), helped organize mass protests in the Indonesian capital last year over claims that governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had insulted the Koran.
Purnama, who is also a member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, was then hauled into court to face a blasphemy trial, in a saga that fuelled concerns about rising religious intolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
Shihab gave evidence for the prosecution in the trial as a religious expert, as hundreds took part in rival rallies outside the Jakarta court, with some supporting the FPI leader and others backing Purnama.
Purnama’s troubles began in September when he said in a speech that the rivals running against him in elections to lead Jakarta were trying to trick people into voting against him by using a Koranic verse.
Some have interpreted the verse to mean that Muslims should not choose non-Muslim leaders. An edited video of his speech went viral online, sparking widespread anger.
Shihab, dressed in flowing white robes and a turban, told the court that Purnama’s speech amounted to blasphemy.
“I want to underline who was being lied to — certainly the Muslims who were present and were listening to the defendant’s speech,” he said.
He said Purnama, who was in court for Tuesday’s hearing, had misrepresented the Koranic verse.
“This is what we mean by blasphemy,” he added.
Purnama’s lawyers said Shihab—who is himself facing a police investigation for defamation—should not have been presented as an expert witness, as he belongs to the group that led demonstrations against the governor.
“We believe Rizieq Shihab is inappropriate (as a religious expert),” lawyer Humphrey Djemat told reporters.
If found guilty of breaking Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws, Purnama faces up to five years in prison.
Despite being on trial, Purnama won the first round of Jakarta’s elections earlier this month, according to private pollsters.
He is heading for a tough run-off in April against a prominent Muslim candidate. AFP