Jakarta (AFP) – Islamic hardliners staged a noisy protest Tuesday against Jakarta’s Christian governor as a court prepared to deliver its verdict in his blasphemy trial, seen as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, was hauled into court last year to face trial for allegedly insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election in a case critics said was politically motivated.
The trial came after a series of major protests against the leader, known by his nickname Ahok, in the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country that drew hundreds of thousands onto the streets.
His once unassailable opinion poll lead shrank amid the controversy and he lost the race to lead Jakarta last month to a Muslim challenger, a result that fuelled fears of Indonesia’s moderate brand of Islam coming under threat from increasingly influential radicals.
As judges at the Jakarta court started recapping the evidence presented in the trial ahead of the verdict, hundreds of demonstrators wearing white Muslim skullcaps protested against Purnama outside the building Tuesday.
“I’m here because I want to defend my religion — Ahok has insulted it, he must be jailed,” Ari, a 35-year-old who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.
A group of the governor’s supporters staged a rival rally.
Housewife Wati, 42, who goes by one name, declared: “He’s innocent. We’re here to support him.”
Blasphemy carries a maximum jail term of five years in Indonesia.
But there is a chance Purnama could escape jail after prosecutors last month recommended he be punished with only two years probation, with a possible one-year jail term if he commits a crime during that period.
The controversy began in September when Purnama, known for his outspoken style, outraged Muslims when he controversially quoted a passage from the Koran during his re-election campaign.
He insinuated that his opponents had used a Koranic verse to trick people into voting against him.
An edited version of his speech went viral online, sparking outrage.
Before the blasphemy controversy erupted, Purnama enjoyed a large lead in opinion polls due to his determination to clean up traffic-clogged, polluted Jakarta.
<figure><figcaption>The blasphemy trial of Jakarta's Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (C) is seen as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia <span>Copyright POOL/AFP/File Miftahul HAYAT</span> </figcaption></figure>