Activists Question Court's Independence Ahead of Ahok's Blasphemy Trial


DECEMBER 11, 2016

Jakarta. Activists say they doubt that the court can maintain their independence during Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's blasphemy trial, arguing that there have been serious questions over law enforcers' credibility and impartiality since the controversial case first came to light.

Tuesday's opening session of the trial is expected to draw more protests from hardliners, who have already staged a series of massive anti-Ahok street protests in the past two months.

The police said they will step up security in Jakarta during the trial, but activists say people should be more concerned with whether or not the judges can maintain their independence under intense public pressure.

"Mob rule is the biggest problem in this case. Can the judges stay independent?" human rights activist Hendardi said.

Hendardi pointed out that law enforcers have shown a surprising swiftness in processing Ahok's case.

The police declared Basuki a suspect in the blasphemy case in mid-November following two large demonstrations by Muslim hardliners, who accuse the Christian of Chinese descent of insulting the Koran.

Ahok's case dossier was handed over to prosecutors less than a week after he was named a suspect.

Prosecutors then declared the dossier complete just three days after receiving it from the police, and handed over the case to the court on the very same day.

This was just a day before the third massive Muslim demonstration in Jakarta.

The police and prosecutors have denied that the rush in handling Ahok's blasphemy case had anything to do with the public protests.

The judges appointed to the blasphemy trial have also vowed to maintain their independence, and activists are calling on them to stick to that commitment.

"The judges should have the guts to stay independent, fend off attempts at intervention and not bow to public pressure," interfaith activist Mohammad Monib said. "The trial should be fair and transparent."