In Indonesia, Christian governor rejects blasphemy charge

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Ahok Purnama meets with the Australian ambassador to Indonesia in March 2016 Credit DFAT Timothy Tobing via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja "Ahok" Purnama (L) meets with the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, March 3, 2016. | DFAT/Timothy Tobing via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The Christian governor of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, could face stiff penalties if convicted of insulting the Quran – a charge he strongly denies.

Prosecutors in the Muslim-majority nation charged that he insulted Islam by misusing a particular Quranic verse that suggests Muslims should not be ruled by non-Muslims.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who goes by the name Ahok, was in tears as he denied the allegations in court.

The governor insisted that his use of the verse was aimed at politicians who were misusing the verse against him. He cited his relationship with his adoptive parents, who are Muslim.

"I am very saddened that I have been accused of insulting Islam because this accusation is the same as saying that I am insulting my adoptive parents and siblings," Purnama said at a Dec. 13 hearing, according to Reuters.

He has repeatedly apologized for his comments but denied charges of blasphemy.

The governor could face up to five years in jail if convicted.  Almost all blasphemy cases in Indonesia have ended in convictions.

Hundreds of protestors gathered in the streets outside the court to call for the governor's immediate imprisonment.

A smaller crowd of the governor's supporters also gathered. His supporters have said that a popular video of his remarks was edited and subtitled to make it seem he was criticizing the verse, rather than political opponents who misuse it.

The trial has been adjourned until Dec. 20.

Massive crowds estimated at more than 150,000 people had twice previously demonstrated against the governor. The group Islamic Defenders Front is playing a major role in the protests. It engages in protests and sometimes violence against Christian and Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslim groups and congregations.

However, the country's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, has told members not to participate in the protests, BBC News reports.

Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, is the first non-Muslim to govern Indonesia's capital in 50 years. He took over his post when his predecessor Joko Widodo became president in 2014.

He had been the frontrunner in February's gubernatorial election before the controversy, but appears to have slipped to second place.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in population, but it also has significant Christian and Hindu communities. Discrimination and attacks on religious minorities occur not infrequently; a priest in Sumata was injured in August while saying Mass by an Islamic State-inspired terrorist.

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