You could describe the prosecutor’s requested sentence in the trial of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) for blasphemy, as absurd: illogical, odd, and comical all rolled into one.

The Public Prosecutor who read the sentencing request, Ali Mukartono, stated that Ahok was guilty as charged, as he had ‘provoked feelings of antagonism as elaborated in section 156 of the criminal code [on hate speech and incitement]’. Therefore, he requested that the recently-defeated Ahok be sentenced to one year’s prison, suspended for two years.

The sentencing request is absurd firstly as a matter of legal formality — since it was based upon a different section of the criminal code than the section on blasphemy under which Ahok was initually charged — but also because it further indicated just how very political this trial is. Because of this, the response to the sentencing request has tended to be negative not only from those who wanted to see Ahok punished severely, but also those who have perceived, or at least suspected, that this case was mere politics all along.

For the anti-Ahok camp, the prosecutor’s request is tantamount to letting the accused walk free, because the suspended sentence ipso facto means Ahok will not go to prison. For what, then, the time and energy expended in the name of this legal process? For what was the use of sensational mass mobilisations, the invocation of the defence of Islam itself, and so on, if this sentence request is all that eventuated? Is this not the same as disparaging the all-important struggle to defend the faith? Is the prosecutor just part of a more cynical agenda imposed upon the Islamic community, by means of a legal stitch-up?

Such is the case, too, with the side that has always seen this legal process as a political farce. The sentencing request reflects a lack of seriousness on the part of prosecutors, and even a failure to prove the charges, that was apparent all along. Beginning from a prosecution processes that smacked of haste, the presentation of weak witnesses, to the unprofessionalism of prosecutors in presenting their sentencing request, such that they had to delay it until after the second round of the gubernatorial election. For Ahok’s supporters, the right move from the prosecutors would be to clear the governor of all charges. But in changing, with much obfuscation, the charge from that of blasphemy to incitement, it was obvious that there was an inconsistency and lack of solidity in their appeal. The viewpoint that the trial was political was given strong support.

That’s why, after reading the sentence request, the Public Prosecutor has become the target of criticism from all directions, including from human rights practitioners who regard Ahok’s trial as a backwards step in protecting freedom of expression, and the protection of minorities. In the end, because the prosecutors themselves are an integral part of the government, then President Jokowi will cop some of the political blame. Anti-Jokowi forces will, of course, happily take advantage of the absurdity I’ve described as ammunition to discredit him — no matter that Jokowi himself has insisted that he would not interfere or intervene in the case.

Of course, the sentencing stage of the trial is not over. There is still the matter of the defendant’s pledoi or defence against the prosecutor’s demand, followed by the judge’s verdict itself. In my view, in order that this legal process does not become more of a joke and a political circus, but instead genuinely seeks out justice, the judge’s verdict will be paramount. If the verdict merely reiterates the absurdity that has played out so far, then the implications will be all the more negative. Not just because legal certainty and justice will drift further out of reach, but because it would likely further inflame the political atmosphere in the capital, with the effects felt throughout Indonesia.


Muhammad A.S. Hikam is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at President University, Indonesia. He is a former member of the Central Leadership Board of Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (National Awakening Party) and served as Minister for Research and Technology in the cabinet of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

This post originally appeared in Indonesian at his Facebook page. Translation by Liam Gammon.

Header image courtesy of New Mandala contributor Ray Yen.