Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama shouted at a leader of the hardline Islamic Defender Front (FPI) testifying against him in a dramatic scene at his blasphemy trial today.
Hundreds of supporters and opponents of Governor Ahok rowdily traded insults as they rallied outside the hearing, with thousands of police deployed to prevent clashes.
Ahok is on trial accused of blasphemy over remarks he made about the Koran while campaigning ahead of February elections for the Jakarta governorship.
Hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims have protested against the leader in recent months in the largest demonstrations in Indonesia in years, but he denies insulting Islam and his supporters say the case is politically motivated.
Ahok, who faces up to five years in jail if found guilty, went on trial last month for blasphemy and at the latest hearing today members of the FPI – which has spearheaded the protest movement – testified against him.
“I reported the suspect (to the police) because he insulted the Koran,” Muhsin Alattas, head of the FPI’s Jakarta branch, told the hearing.
But as the witness was questioned, Ahok – known for his short temper – began to shout at him.
“Who has given FPI the authority to speak on behalf of all Muslims? … many Muslims don’t like FPI,” he said.
“Just ask the FPI,” the witness responded during the hearing, which was taking place in an auditorium at the agriculture ministry after being moved from a Jakarta court for security reasons.
In his comments in September, Ahok accused his opponents of using a Koranic verse, which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, in order to trick people into voting against him.
The case, which is expected to take several more weeks, has sparked concerns about growing intolerance in Indonesia where a reputation for pluralism has been eroded by a surge in attacks on minorities.