Trial in the high-profile blasphemy case involving Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama commenced amid tight security on Tuesday (13 December) as protesters demonstrated outside the court house. Speaking before a panel of five judges, the Christian man of Chinese descent said that he would never insult Islam intentionally.
Purnama, also known by his Chinese name Ahok, was accused by hard-line Muslims of insulting the Quran. Following which, massive protests were held across the capital over the past few weeks as angry demonstrators demanded his resignation from office and subsequent arrest.
According to AP, investigators and religious experts were divided on whether or not to prosecute Purnama, but the case has proceeded as the government was under political pressure.
The incident attracted widespread criticism in September and highlighted the world's most populous Muslim country's reputation for religious tolerance. Although Purnama apologised for passing offending remarks, he denied committing blasphemy.
He could face a jail term of up to five years, if he is found guilty.
The 50-year-old reportedly broke down twice in court as he recalled the role of his Muslim godparents when he was child and how affectionate they were. He also highlighted his role in helping poor Indonesians to perform Hajj, when he served as a district chief over a decade ago.
"As a person who grew up in Islamic circles, is not possible for me to insult Islam because that is the same as disrespecting the people I appreciate and love," the governor told the court.
Meanwhile, outside the court, dozens of protesters chanted "God is Great" and waved signs depicting Purnama wearing prison clothes behind bars.
Security personnel have been deployed in large numbers in central Jakarta as supporters and opponents of the governor gathered outside court.
State prosecutor Ali Mukartono told the court that Purnama insulted Islam and dishonoured the Quran by quoting a verse during his campaign in September to boost his chances of winning the governor's post in polls due in February 2017. Purnama, who's the city's first non-Muslim governor in over five decades, is seeking a second term.
In his defence, Purnama said that his remarks were not an interpretation of the Quran and that he was only referring to certain politicians "who exploited the verses incorrectly because they do not want to compete fairly in the election competition".
Purnama's lawyers asked the panel of judges to dismiss the case. Trial has now been adjourned until 20 December.
The blasphemy allegations were levelled against him after a video of his speech went viral, which apparently was interpreted by some as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim.