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Jakarta governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama named in blasphemy case

Jakarta's popular Christian governor is set to stand trial over blasphemy allegations. The case is being billed as a major test of the Muslim-majority country's reputation for religious tolerance.

The popular Christian governor of Jakarta was formally named as a suspect regarding blasphemy allegations Wednesday, after claims that he insulted Islam sparked mass protests in the Indonesian capital.

Islamic groups throughout Indonesia had previously demanded that Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama be prosecuted for allegedly insulting the Koran while campaigning for the governorship of Jakarta.

Blasphemy allegations erupted after Ahok accused his opponents of using a Koranic verse suggesting Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders in order to trick people into voting against him.

Indonesien Jakarta Demonstration von Islamisten (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Ibrahim)

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in protests organized by Islamist groups to demand Ahok be put on trial for blasphemy

Ahok had publicly apologized for his comments before the demonstrations began, but it did little to appease his opponents.

Over 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Jakarta on November 4 to demand that Ahok be prosecuted. The demonstration was organized by, among others, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which some describe as vigilantes and others as a group of radical Islamists.

After a lengthy investigation, police said the allegations against Ahok should go to trial.

"Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has been named suspect," national police chief detective Ari Dono told reporters. "We have reached an agreement, even though it was not unanimous ... that this case should be processed in an open trial."

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Ahok is popular with Jakarta's middle class. He is known as a blunt speaker who doesn't tolerate corruption and who has articulated a vision to make the chaotic, dysfunctional city more like clean, orderly and efficient Singapore. 

But his anti-corruption stance has made him enemies, and the evictions of thousands of poor residents to make way for urban improvement has stoked anger and resentment and played to a stereotype of the Chinese as exploiters of Indonesia's poor Muslim masses.

If found guilty, Ahok - who is tipped to win the upcoming February elections against two Muslim opponents - could be jailed for up to five years.

Rights group Amnesty International, which rejects the premise that insulting a religion can be considered a crime, has documented 106 blasphemy convictions in Indonesia between 2004 and 2014.

bw/msh (AP, AFP)

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