Tens of thousands in Jakarta demand the resignation of its governor who they say committed blasphemy.
Jakarta’s Christian governor has been formally named a suspect on blasphemy allegations after claims that he insulted Islam led to a violent mass protest by Muslim groups in the Indonesian capital.
After a lengthy preliminary investigation, police said that the allegations against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is also a member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, should go to trial.
Religious groups in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country had demanded that Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, be prosecuted for allegedly insulting the Quran while campaigning in elections for the Jakarta governorship.
Purnama had accused his opponents of using a Quranic verse, which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, in order to trick people into voting against him.
The blasphemy claims prompted much anger among Muslims – both moderate and conservative – and more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Jakarta on November 4 demanding that Purnama be prosecuted, with the protest turning violent as night fell.
After a weeks-long investigation, which involved questioning scores of witnesses, Ari Dono Sukmanto, chief of the National Police criminal investigation department, said Purnama should not be allowed to leave the country during the investigation.
“We have reached an agreement, even though it was not unanimous … that this case should be processed in an open trial,” Sukmanto said after the investigation.
“Even though there was no consensus, the dominant opinion is that this case should be settled in court.”
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Jakarta, said the police had treated this case very carefully.
“The police invited lots of experts, including religious and psychological experts,” she said.
“There was so much difference of opinion that the police now wants a judge and an open court to decide if Ahok has committed blasphemy or not.
“The decision is a huge setback for the governor who was running for re-election.”
Naming someone a suspect is a formal step in the Indonesian legal system that means authorities believe they have enough preliminary evidence to consider filing charges against someone.
If found guilty Purnama – who is favourite to win the February elections against two Muslim opponents – could be jailed for up to five years.
Purnama has apologised for his remarks made in September, saying he was criticising his political rivals who were using the verse rather than the Quran itself.