Jakarta governor named suspect in blasphemy case

Indonesian police have named Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama a suspect in a blasphemy case over accusations that he insulted the Quran, amid pressure from Muslim groups for his prosecution.

The police announcement came after more than 100,000 Muslims rallied earlier this month demanding Ahok be arrested for blasphemy.

“The case will proceed to trial and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has been named a suspect,” said Ari Dono Sukmanto, the national police head of criminal investigations.

Ahok has also been barred from travelling overseas, he said.

Ari said witnesses and experts, who included religious clerics and linguists questioned during the investigation, were divided over whether Ahok had committed blasphemy.

“I accept the suspect status with an open heart,” Ahok said. “This is not the end.”

He joked that he might end up like the late South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela who became president after he was released from prison.

One person died of an asthma attack and several were injured after police fired tear gas at Muslim protestors when the anti-Ahok rally turned violent on November 4.

The blasphemy allegations stemmed from remarks made by Ahok during a meeting with residents of Pulau Seribu off Jakarta Bay  in September.

Ahok said his opponents in next year’s gubernatorial election had used a verse from the Quran to deceive voters and prevent him from winning another term.

Many Muslims in Indonesia interpret the text in question as prohibiting them from electing non-Muslims as their leaders.

Ahok became Jakarta’s first ethnically-Chinese governor when he took over from Joko Widodo in 2014.

He has a reputation for an abrasive speaking style that has ruffled the feathers of other politicians.

He has also spoken out against the corruption and incompetence that plagues the city’s bureaucracy.

Ahok is seeking another term in the election scheduled for February 15.

The chairman of the General Election Commission, Sumarno, said Ahok’s status would not affect his candidacy.

“He can still participate in all stages of the election and can still campaign,” Sumarno was quoted as saying by Merdeka.com news website.

Ahok has apologized for the Quran remarks, but his expression of remorse failed to appease more hardline Muslims.

Blasphemy is defined in Indonesia as “publicly expressing hostility to, misusing or disparaging any of the recognized religions” and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

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