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Emotions high as Jakarta Governor Ahok's blasphemy trial postponed
Sydney Morning Herald - April 11, 2017
Jakarta's police chief wrote to the North Jakarta District Court last week requesting the trial be postponed "considering the increasing vulnerability of the security situation in Jakarta".
Tensions have continued to ratchet up ahead of the April 19 election, when Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who is ethnically Chinese and Christian, will face off against his Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan.
Both had failed to win an outright majority in an earlier election in February, which knocked out Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The run-off election campaign has once again been mired in ugly sectarianism, amid calls for Ahok to be prosecuted for allegedly insulting Islam.
His opponents have also accused Ahok's ticket of playing the race card in an emotive – and at times dark – campaign video that calls on Jakartans to put aside religion and ethnicity and embrace the nation's motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity).
Even the X-Men have been dragged into the controversy surrounding the embattled Jakarta governor, with Marvel Comics disciplining an Indonesian artist who included hidden references to the Ahok blasphemy controversy in the first issue of the latest X-Men Gold series.
Prosecutor Ali Mukartono initially claimed on Tuesday the sentence demand for Ahok's alleged blasphemy was "not ready".
Ahok is facing up to five years' jail for telling voters they had been deceived by religious leaders who used the Koranic scripture al-Maida to argue a non-Muslim should not be elected governor of Jakarta.
But when the presiding judge proposed to move the sentence request to April 17 – two days before the election – Mr Ali asked him to consider the letter from the Jakarta police chief. The court eventually agreed to adjourn until April 20.
Pedri Kasman, an official from the Islamic group Muhammadiyah who reported the blasphemy allegations to the police, said he was "very disappointed" by the postponement.
"I think there is a political factor behind it," he said. "We deeply regret this decision because it hurts people's feeling of justice. I think it's only natural that after this people will assume that this is influenced by other elements outside the law."
Meanwhile Gerindra, the political party backing Anies, has reported Ahok's latest campaign video – which has gone viral on social media – to the police. Gerindra Deputy Chairman Ferry Juliantono said it depicted Muslims as intolerant and radical and Chinese Indonesians as heros.
The video features a riot with men wearing peci (Muslim hats) carrying a sign that says "Ganyang Cina" (crush the Chinese), as well as Indonesia's first president Sukarno, who promoted the philosophy of unity in diversity, and Indonesians cheering the success of Chinese Indonesian badminton players.
"Whoever you are, whatever religion you follow, whatever your background, all of you are fellow countrymen," the narrator says.
Australian National University lecturer Ross Tapsell, who is an expert on social media in Indonesia, said the video appealed to voters' nationalism and what it means to be Indonesian.
"I think the recent elections around the world have shown that emotions play a big part in voting rather than policy details," Dr Tapsell said. "I think it's overdue – it's put [unity in diversity] at the heart of campaign materials."
He said while the video may have riled Islamic hardliners and would not necessarily convince people who had voted for Agus in the first round to vote for Ahok in the second, it could mobilise Ahok supporters to come out and vote. "In my opinion it's the most talked about campaign video seen in the election so far."
The video was later taken down from Ahok's social media accounts. Campaign official Raja Juli Antoni denied this was due to an outcry over the depiction of Muslims. "We took it down to fit Election Commission specifications of 30 seconds," he said. A shorter version would later be uploaded.
Meanwhile, Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf said "my career is over now" after Marvel issued a statement saying references to street protests against Ahok and the Koranic scripture that landed him in so much hot water had been inserted into X-Men Gold without its knowledge.
"These implied references... are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation," Marvel said in a statement.
Ardian wrote in a public Facebook posting that his reference reflected his love for the Holy Koran. "It's the consequence what I did, and I take it. Please no more mockery, debate, no more hate. My apologies for all the noise. Good bye, May God bless you all. I love all of you." – with Karuni Rompies