Prosecutors agree to postpone Ahok’s blasphemy sentence hearing until April 20, the day after the runoff election

Jakarta’s governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama talks to his lawyers inside the court room during his trial at the North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 27, 2016. REUTERS/Bagus Indahono/Pool

North Jakarta District Court judges overseeing the high-profile blasphemy trial for Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama have postponed the case’s sentence demand hearing, which was scheduled for today, until April 20, a day after the runoff election between Ahok and rival Anies Baswedan.

According the the judges, the new schedule was approved, not because of the Jakarta Metro Police’s previous request to have the hearing postponed to preserve security in the capital during what is expected to be a tense few days leading up to and including Election Day itself, but rather because the public prosecutors have not yet put together the sentences they want Ahok to be convicted for.

“To give a chance to the public prosecutors to put together their sentencing, this hearing is postponed until Thursday, April 20,” said head judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, as quoted by Detik at the hearing today.

Previously, Ahok was scheduled to hear the prosecutors’ sentence demands today and read his final defense statement on April 17, i.e. two days before the election.

Whether this delay will aid or damage Ahok’s campaign is hard to say. While the general consensus is that Ahok would be better off not having the sentence looming over his head on Election Day, he has in the past expressed a desire to have his hearings aired live on national TV so that he can make his defense arguments with the nation watching. Observers pointed out that one of the contributing factors to Ahok’s victory in the first round of the election was that he was able to make a tearful, heartfelt plea of innocence in the trial’s televised opening hearing, which gained many voters’ sympathies.

Universitas Indonesia political observer Ikhsan Darmawan is one who supports the theory that the hearing’s delay could be more advantageous to Anies rather than Ahok. He believes that the delay robbed Ahok of the chance to clear his name on April 17 in front of a live TV audience, which could have played a part, albeit a small one, in convincing Jakartans to vote for him.

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