Update: Headline and story has been updated to reflect a clarification from lawyer Humphrey Djemat that Governor Ahok was not referring to Ma’ruf Amin when he said that he would be taking legal action to report witnesses giving false testimony in his trial. However, Humprey also still promised to provide the court with evidence that the call in which SBY asked Ma’ruf to issue the blasphemy fatwa took place.
Yesterday’s session in the ongoing blasphemy trial of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama saw the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Ma’ruf Amin, take the witness stand to testify against Ahok. His testimony included several statements that shocked observers (including an admission from Ma’ruf that he had not actually watched the video of Ahok’s speech in the Thousand Islands before MUI’s fatwa declaring that it contained blasphemy was issued) but his denial of one particular question from the defense could have signaled the start of an absolutely massive political scandal that could turn the trial on its head and forever stain the reputation of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
As Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, it was MUI’s fatwa declaring that Ahok had committed blasphemy, issued on October 11, that provided the fuel for the massive protests that took place in Jakarta in November and December. Islamic hardliner groups forming a body called the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI) to organize the enormous anti-Ahok demonstrations.
At yesterday’s hearing, one of the lawyers on Ahok’s legal team, Humphrey Djemat, asked Ma’ruf a crucial — and unusually specific — question about the events of October 6.
“On Thursday, before meeting with [Jakarta gubernatorial candidates Agus Yudhoyono and Sylviana Murni] on Friday, was there a call from Pak SBY at 10:16 am in which he, first, asked that a meeting be set up for Agus and Sylvi be accepted at Nahdlatul Ulama headquarters, and second, requested that a fatwa on defamation of religion immediately be issued?” Humphrey asked Ma’ruf as quoted by Kompas.
Ma’ruf flatly denied Humprey’s question. Ahok’s lawyer then pressed him, saying that the MUI chairman had just lied in court and reminding him of the consequences of giving false testimony.
Ma’ruf, however, continued to deny that the call from SBY had occurred.
That’s when Humphrey dropped the bomb, saying that his side would provide proof that the call had indeed taken place.
At that point, Chief Judge Budi Dwiarso Santiarto reminded Ma’ruf that he could be imprisoned if he gave false testimony but the MUI leader would not change his answer.
Ahok later spoke to the court himself, noting that Ma’ruf had a close relationship with SBY, having once been a member of his Presidential Advisory Council (Wantimpres) and was thus not a reliable, objective witness.
Perhaps you are thinking that Ahok and his lawyers might have somehow been bluffing. Well, something else the governor told the court yesterday makes us think he’s dead serious about proving their claim.
“Believe me, in closing, if you oppress me, your opponent is Almighty God. I will prove these shameful acts one by one. Thank you,” Ahok said.
If the accusation of the governor and his legal team prove to be true, then the implications are potentially explosive.
Most obviously, it would prove a suspicion that many political observers have long held – that former President SBY engineered the fatwa and subsequent criminal blasphemy charges and protests against Ahok, all as a means of helping his son Agus win the upcoming Jakarta governor’s election (not to mention weaken the government of President Joko Widodo).
SBY was heavily criticized for fanning the flames of religious anger against Ahok back on November 2 (shortly before the 4/11 anti-Ahok rally) when he said, “If you do not want this country to burn with the anger of justice seekers, Pak Ahok must be prosecuted. Do not let him be considered above the law.”
After violence broke out towards the end of the 4/11 protest, Jokowi addressed the country and said the violence had been “steered by political actors who were exploiting the situation”, which some observers took as a veiled reference to SBY.
The extreme specificity with which Ahok’s lawyer referred to the supposed call between SBY and Ma’ruf (noting both the exact time of the call at 10:16 am and the exact contents of the call) would seem to imply that the “very complete data” they have to prove the shocking accusation is am actual recording of the alleged phone call.
Interestingly, in a statement released by SBY’s political party condemning Ahok’s accusation in court, Democratic Party spokesman Rachland Nashidik characterized it as a form of “character assassination” and argued that it was Ma’ruf’s fundamental right as a citizen to have political preferences. However, it seems like Rachland never explicitly denied that the call took place.
If a recording of such a phone call exists, the question would then be, how could Ahok’s legal team possibly have obtained it? One might guess that it could’ve been an MUI insider, but the more obvious possibility would be that a government intelligence agency had tapped the line (It wouldn’t be the first time an intelligence agency monitored the former president’s phone calls – leaked documents showed the Australian government targeted SBY for phone surveillance when he was in office).
We’re now entering the realm of pure speculation, but could it be that Jokowi was aware of the existence of the Ma’ruf-SBY phone call recording all this time and knew that it could be unleashed later as a devastating revelation that could help Ahok win not only his trial but also the election? It would certainly cause those who believed that the president had distanced himself from Ahok to save his own political future to reevaluate many of Jokowi’s actions over the last few months.
Of course, if it did come from a government intelligence agency, how could Ahok’s legal team possibly present that evidence in court? Well, we may be way down the wrong speculative path at this point, but if it does turn out that Jokowi somehow helped get Ahok the theoretical recording and they were successfully able to use it to reveal a grand conspiracy by SBY, then it would be definitive proof that our president has been two steps ahead of his opponents this entire time.