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Blasphemy trial against Jakarta's Christian governor continues

Hundreds of protesters and supporters gathered outside the courthouse in the Indonesian capital as the governor's trial resumed. He denies charges of having insulted Islam.

The blasphemy trial against Jakarta's governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, resumed on Tuesday in the Indonesian capital.

Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, is accused of having insulted Islam. Under Indonesia's strict blasphemy laws, he could face up to five years in jail if found guilty.

The charges relate to an incident in September when Ahok, who is Jakarta's first Christian governor in half a century, was filmed saying that his political opponents were using a verse from the Koran to deceive voters.

"If you cannot vote for me because you're afraid of being condemned to hell, you do not need to feel uneasy, as you are being fooled," Ahok said, referring to a verse in the Muslim holy book that some interpret as a warning to Muslims not to elect a non-Muslim as their leader.

Controversial comments

The appearance of the video online led to some of the biggest protests in Indonesia in recent years. At one rally, more than 200,000 people took to the streets to demand Ahok's arrest.

Indonesien Proteste in Jakarta gegen Gouverneur (picture-alliance/Pacific Press/T. Aditya Irawan)

Ahok's comments sparked protests among Indonesia's majority Muslim population

Ahok, has apologized for the comments, but claims that he never intended to insult Islam.

At the opening of his trial, which is being televised on national television, he appealed to judges to dismiss the case, saying that he was being unfairly targeted because of his Christian faith.

On Tuesday prosecutor Ali Mukartono said: "Based on our analysis and judicial description, the entire objection filed by the accused and his lawyers is not based on the law and has to be dismissed."

Ahok, 50, has not been formally arrested and is not in custody.

Protests outside the courthouse

As the trial resumed, hundreds of anti-Ahok demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse chanting "God is great."

"We want the judges to arrest Ahok because he is already a suspect and the police and attorney general are not bold enough to arrest him," one protester, Thirman Elon, said.

Most blasphemy trials in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim-majority population in the world, result in convictions.

Moschee Indonesien Banda Aceh (AP)

Of Indonesia's 250 million inhabitants, an estimated 200 million are Muslims

Ahok's supporters, many wearing red and white headbands, also gathered to denounce the trial.

"Ahok is not guilty. What he did was not blasphemy. Ahok has apologized many times and, as Muslims, we should forgive him," a supporter, Misirah, said.

Losing ground in the polls

Ahok is standing for re-election in February against two Muslim candidates. While he had been the favorite to win, the trial appears to have had a negative impact on his campaign, with at least one opponent pulling ahead of him in the polls.

The Jakarta governor is a close aide of President Joko Widodo, who has faced criticism for not doing enough to protect Indonesia's religious minorities.

The trial has been adjourned until December 27.

rls/tj (afp/dpa)