Head judge who rejected Ahok’s judicial review used to be FPI’s legal counsel, according to Rizieq

Indonesian firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab (front) prepares to take his seat in court to testify in the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (background 2nd R), also known as “Ahok”, in Jakarta on February 28, 2017. Photo: 
RAMDANI / AFP
Indonesian firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab (front) prepares to take his seat in court to testify in the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (background 2nd R), also known as “Ahok”, in Jakarta on February 28, 2017. Photo: RAMDANI / AFP

Not many people were surprised by the news that the judicial review (PK) filed by former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama challenging his controversial blasphemy conviction had been rejected on Monday. Despite the glaring legal contradiction forming the basis of Ahok’s PK, the Supreme Court judges overseeing it apparently did not find that a persuasive argument to overturn his original conviction and 2 year prison sentence.

The full decision detailing the judge’s reasons for rejecting Ahok’s PK has not yet been released but it has recently come to light that the head judge in the case, Artidjo Alkostar, had a very close relationship with the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and its leader, the fugitive Rizieq Shihab, as detailed by Rizieq himself on numerous occasions in the past.

The FPI, and Rizieq in particular, were of course instrumental in organizing the massive anti-Ahok protests that took place in late 2016 over the former governor’s alleged blasphemy against the Quran. Many (including many of the Islamists organizers themselves, now) say the protests were heavily politicized and ultimately responsible for Ahok’s election loss and conviction.

Although there is quite a bit of evidence showing the relationship between Judge Artidjo and the FPI, it was most clearly explained by Rizieq himself during a discussion held by the Alumni Association of the Islamic University of Indonesia (UII) on March 4, 2014, titled  “Harapan Penegakan Hukum, Fenomena Artidjo Alkostar” (Hope of Law Enforcement, the Phenomenon of Artidjo Alkostar).

The discussion featured several prominent figures speaking about Artidjo and Rizieq was one of them. Based on several contemporaneous reports about the event, including one by legal news portal Hukum Online, the FPI founder talked at length about his long and close relationship with Artidjo.

Rizieq told the audience that Artidjo had first come to FPI headquarters to talk with him about the group’s activities, including to criticize those which were illegal and had made them a target of the media.

“Finally, we asked him to be our (FPI’s) legal counsel. And he also provided legal awareness education to the FPI board,” Rizieq said as quoted by Hukum Online.

The FPI leader said Artidjo was diligent in helping out the organization and would visit FPI HQ at least once a week. Eventually he asked Artidjo to lead FPI’s “Department of Justice and Human Rights”, a position Rizieq said he held until he became a Supreme Court judge.

After the news about Artidjo’s alleged relationship to FPI emerged again in the media following his decision on Ahok’s PK, the secretary general of FPI Jakarta, Novel Bamukmin (of Fitsa Hats infamy – no we’re never forgetting that) contradicted the words of Rizieq and denied the news. Sort of.

“That’s not true (regarding Artidjo being FPI’s legal counsel). Maybe he was close in that he (Artidjo) had come to socialize, that might be possible, ” Novel told Tempo on yesterday.

However, Novel also said that he had known Rizieq since 1993 but had never met Artidjo in all of that time.

One of Ahok’s lawyers, Josefina Agatha Syukur, said she had heard about the judge’s connection to FPI but said that they would wait until the full decision was released by the court before taking any action.

While few were surprised that Ahok’s PK was rejected, many were shocked last month when his legal originally announced their decision to file for a judicial review, considering that Ahok is already nearly one year into his 2-year sentence and he had previous decided against filing an appeal against the verdict.

However, a PK is legally distinct from an appeal and carries fewer risks (such as the possibility of having one’s prison sentence increased if they lose their appeal). A PK can be filed on the basis of new evidence or circumstances in a case.

For Ahok’s PK, the major new piece of evidence is the guilty verdict in the case of Buni Yani, the man who uploaded a short clip of a speech Ahok gave in the Thousand Islands that contained the alleged blasphemy against Islam. Buni Yani was sentenced in November for spreading hate speech by sharing just a 30-second clip of the nearly 2-hour long speech (along with an inaccurate transcript). The incendiary clip was the primary incitement for the anti-Ahok protests that eventually led to the former governor’s election loss and imprisonment.

As we understand the argument from Ahok’s side, the verdict in his case and Buni Yani’s case are based on directly contradictory legal opinions. Buni Yani was convicted largely because the judges said that his editing of the clip had been meant to incite hatred, and yet in Ahok’s case the judge determined that the clip being edited had not affected the blasphemous nature of what Ahok had said about a verse from the Koran.

Ahok was convicted of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to two years in prison in May 2017.

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