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Judges rule Jakarta governor blasphemy trial closed to media

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as 'Ahok' (AP)

An Indonesian court ruled on Tuesday that witness testimony will be closed to the media in the blasphemy trial of the capital’s minority Christian governor.

Jakarta Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama is charged with insulting Islam and desecrating the Quran by using one of its verses to boost his chances of winning re-election. Ahok, 50, is seeking a second term as governor in elections due in February.

The blasphemy controversy erupted when a video circulated online in which Ahok lightheartedly said people were being deceived if they believed his detractors who asserted that the Koran prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader.

A five-judge panel ruled that journalists will not be allowed to cover witness testimony during the trial and that spectators can’t bring mobile phones inside the courtroom. Testimony began shortly after the decision was announced Tuesday.

Presiding Judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto ordered journalists to leave the packed courtroom at the North Jakarta District Court shortly after he opened the hearing.

One of Ahok’s lawyers, Trimoelja Soerjadi, said the ruling was aimed at protecting the witnesses given the huge amount of attention the trial has received in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

He said that none of the four people who reported Ahok to police and testified Tuesday directly heard what Ahok said when he visited a fishing village in northern Jakarta.

Muchsin Alatas, one of the witnesses, told reporters after testifying that Ahok was using the Koran for his political interests. “He was insulting Koran, that’s why I reported him to the police … justice must be done,” he said.

Protests against Ahok, led by conservative Muslims and which drew hundreds of thousands of people, have kept Jakarta on edge for weeks. A November 4 protest there turned violent, with one death and dozens of police and protesters injured.

The trial could take two to three months.