Ahok supporters finding new strength

As prosecutors read out their statement that rejected Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's refutation, hundreds of supporters of the blasphemy defendant staged a demonstration outside the North Jakarta District Court on Tuesday, asking the judges to release the beleaguered incumbent Jakarta gubernatorial candidate.

It was the first time since his allegedly blasphemous remarks started to trouble him two months ago that a large number of demonstrators openly voiced support for the capital's first Chinese-Indonesian


Wearing the iconic blue and red plaid shirts, the protesters carried signs that read, "We are Muslims who forgive Ahok" and "Release Ahok".

"I'll tell you what Ahok has done to Islam. He sent mosque keepers to go on the umrah and built mosques. He is not an enemy of Islam," a man in a white cap said through a loudspeaker to supporters who responded with a thunderous applause.

The scene at the old Central Jakarta District Court building on Jl. Gajah Mada stood in contrast to Ahok's first trial hearing a week before. At that time, no Ahok supporters were present. Instead, hundreds of protesters swarmed the street to demand that Ahok be jailed immediately.

At least three large rallies with similar demands were staged in Jakarta, as well as in other cities, shaking the country's political stability.

With the "anti-Ahok" protestors also present on Tuesday, the two groups were separated by dozens of police officers and a police Barracuda vehicle.

"We were trying to display support for Ahok and send a message to the judges and other people that there are Muslims who support tolerance and a fair trial," Yayong Waryono of the Bara-Badja (Volunteer Front for Basuki and Djarot) told The Jakarta Post. The abbreviation refers to Ahok and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat.

Yayong said they decided to stage a rally because they were concerned with the hundreds of anti-Ahok protestors "trying to put pressure on the panel of judges".

A recent survey carried out by Jakarta-based pollster Poltracking Indonesia found that most Ahok supporters in Jakarta were from the middle class group, which seemed to make up most of the


Inside the court building, prosecutors asked the judges to ignore the refutation statement emotionally presented by Ahok last week.

Lead prosecutor Mukartono said the refutation by Ahok and his legal team was baseless and urged the judges, presided over by Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, to proceed with the trial.

In his refutation, Ahok said as evidence of his great respect for Islam, he had funded many mosque keepers to go on the umrah, therefore leaving him with no reason to commit blasphemy against the religion.

But Mukartono brushed off the claim.

"The source of the funds was from the Jakarta regional budget and it was normal for a regional leader to do such a thing," he said.

Prosecutors also questioned a claim conveyed by Ahok's legal team in the previous hearing that it was a "trial by mob".

Prosecutors claimed that despite the blasphemy allegation that stirred public controversy, it was the crime that brought Ahok to court, not the public pressure.

"The legal process had been made under the proper procedures and none of it was affected by public pressure," Mukartono said.

The trial has been adjourned until Dec. 27, when the panel of judges are scheduled to issue an interim decision on whether to accept the refutation statement and terminate the trial, in which Ahok would be cleared of the blasphemy charge.

Ahok has been indicted on Article 156 section (a) of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on blasphemy, which carries a maximum of five years' imprisonment, for his controversial remarks that included a reference to a Quranic verse when he made a visit to Thousand Islands regency in September.

The Jakarta Police said they deployed 2,986 officers to secure the area surrounding the court building.

Read also: More than 2,000 personnel deployed to secure Ahok's second hearing

The police have repeatedly voiced concerns over possible security issues during the trial hearings and asked the Supreme Court to consider relocating the trial as the current venue is located in the heart of Jakarta where many government institutions and major businesses operate.