Ahok blasphemy trial begins: Tearful Jakarta governor professes respect for Islam

The high-profile blasphemy case trial began on 13 December at the Central Jakarta Court building

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok", sits on the defendant's chair at the start of his trial hearing at North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta, Indonesi Reuters

The first day of Jakarta's high-profile blasphemy case trial at the Central Court building saw everything from fiery protest to emotional outburst. While the trial was going on in the court, protesters outside raised slogan both for and against the city's Chinese Christian governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, reported Al Jazeera.

The leader was named the prime suspect in the blasphemy case on 16 November. It is believed that the governor, during a speech, criticised his opponents for citing a verse in the Quran which warns Muslims against forming an alliance with Christians and Jews saying that they were "lying".

Jakarta Post reported that a team of 80 layers have been formed to ensure Ahok would get a fair trial. It is also reported that the group is called "Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (BTP) Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Advocacy Team".

Teary Ahok apologises

Meanwhile, in the courtroom, Ahok could not hold back his tears as he read out his exception before the judges' panel. In between his tears, he said that he never wanted to insult the Quran.

"I did not intend to misinterpret Surah Al Maidah 51 nor commit blasphemy nor insult ulemas. In my statement, [in Thousand Islands] I referred to certain politicians who had misused Surah Al Maidah 51 to avoid fair competition prior to upcoming regional elections," said Ahok, as reported by the Jakarta Post.

Hardliners refusing to let go?

However, radical Muslims in Indonesia are baying for the blood of Ahok and they are calling for his immediate arrest. Police have had clashes with gangs of jihadists on 4 November, during the first anti-Ahok rally. The hardliners torched police cars and attacked officers and Police had to fire tear gas, water cannon and truncheons into thousands of rioting protesters to bring the situation under control. It was also reported that the angry mobs tried to enter the governor's housing complex in northern Jakarta but the police foiled the move.

Security stepped up

Without taking any chances police have beefed up the security prior to the 13 December trial and the event took place amidst hundreds of security personnel keeping a strict vigil on protesters.

As human rights activists said that Ahok is being penalised for a crime he did not commit, Jakarta police have repeatedly urged people to avoid protests and rallies. Police Chief Mochamad Iriawan, before the 2 December rally asked residents not to take part in the demonstration and request them to let the law take its own course.

"Residents should not join the rally on Nov. 25 or on Dec. 2 since police have already named Ahok a suspect in the case," said Iriawan. He also said that those who will defy the orders will be prosecuted under articles 212 to 218 of the Criminal Code.