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‘Ahok’: Jakarta governor’s blasphemy trial begins
The blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s governor, a Christian of Chinese descent, has begun amid tight security in the Indonesian capital.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known by his Chinese name Ahok, is accused of insulting the Koran.
Mr Purnama has apologised for the offending remarks but denies committing blasphemy, which carries a maximum five year jail sentence.
The case is being seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.
Mr Purnama arrived at the court alongside lawyers and police and bowed to the five judges sitting on the trial before taking his seat.
In his opening statement, an emotional Mr Purnama insisted his comments were aimed at politicians “incorrectly” using the Koranic verse he referred to.
Mr Purnama is the city’s first non-Muslim governor in more than 50 years and there are some who fear the trial signals the growing influence of hardliners in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
In November, about 100,000 Islamists took to the streets demanding his arrest in a rally that turned violent.
Police have deployed personnel in large numbers near the court in central Jakarta, where opponents of the governor are holding a rally.
Supporters of Mr Purnama have also gathered outside the court.
Who is ‘Ahok’?
A businessman who became Jakarta’s deputy governor, Mr Purnama was made governor when his predecessor Joko Widodo became president in 2014.
At the time, the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) said it did not want him to succeed Mr Widodo, arguing a Christian should not govern a Muslim-majority city. They have played a major role in the latest protests against the governor.
He is seen as a political independent and is popular for his tough stance against corruption. As governor, he put his focus firmly on improving public transport and access to healthcare and education.
Elections for Jakarta’s governorship are due in February 2017 and Mr Purnama is among several candidates in contention.
Read more: Who is Jakarta’s non-Muslim governor?
What are the allegations?
While campaigning for the elections in September, Mr Purnama made a speech where he said that Islamic groups who were using a Koranic verse to lobby against him were deceiving voters.
The verse is interpreted by some as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim.
Islamic groups said he had criticised the Koran and lodged complaints with police. Mr Purnama apologised but denied blasphemy.
His supporters say that a video of the event which was widely circulated had been edited and subtitled to make it appear as if he was criticising the verse, rather than those who invoked it.
The president promised a transparent investigation and police officially declared Mr Purnama a suspect on 16 November.
What is the significance of a blasphemy charge?
Although Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the country only recognises six religions and has tough penalties for blasphemy against any of them.
In practice, observers say the laws are often used to defend the Sunni majority, with Shia Muslims and other minority groups often the target of prosecutions.
Atheists too have been prosecuted, with one man sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail in 2012 for saying on Facebook that God does not exist.
Is there more to it?
President Widodo has blamed “political actors” for trying to take advantage of the furore.
The case has benefitted Mr Purnama’s rivals in the election race, which he was seen as the frontrunner before the blasphemy allegations.
Some have suggested the case also shows that Indonesia, historically a moderate Muslim nation, is becoming more radical.
However, Indonesia’s largest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), told its members not to take part in the anti-Ahok rallies.
Others fear that the move against Mr Purnama is about his ethnicity, although this is denied by protest organisers.
Christians represent less than 10% of the country’s 250 million people, and ethnic Chinese about 1%.
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