Indonesia. A virulent Islamic hard-liner who incited others to attack a church community in Bekasi stunned judges and the gallery at his trial on Monday by bursting into tears and advocating social harmony.
Murhali Barda, the suspended head of the Bekasi chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), had none of his usual fiery calls for violence.
After requesting time to express his thoughts from the presiding judge, Wasdi Permana, the defendant began to weep. Prosecutors have accused Murhali of inciting the attack through text messages and speeches on the radio as well as updates from his personal Facebook page.
On Monday, though, he said: “We have to maintain harmony in society. We would not have bothered the other group if only the other group had not bothered us. All we want is to live our lives in peace without disturbing others.”
As pin-drop silence followed, judges, prosecutors and lawyers stared at him in shock.
Murhali’s mother, in the audience, sobbed as well, as did other court visitors.
The FPI strongman is one of 13 standing trial for the stabbing of Asia Sihombing and beating of the Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak, both leaders of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), in Bekasi on Sept. 12 last year.
The attack took place as the congregation was its way to Ciketing, where it had been holding services after authorities sealed off the house it was using as a church in nearby Pondok Timur Indah.
Murhali said he had approached Luspida to ask her not to hold services in Ciketing.
“But she simply refused to listen to me,” he said.
Murhali, who faces up to seven years in jail, added, “It is hard for us residents of Bekasi to accept outsiders, particularly because the majority of us are Muslims and we are a tight community.”