THE minority Christian governor of Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta has been named a suspect in a blasphemy investigation after he allegedly insulted the Quran, police said.
Police said Wednesday that the popular governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, cannot leave the country while the investigation is being carried out.
On Tuesday, a case screening was held on the allegations against Ahok, which led to the police’s decision to name the governor as a suspect, the Jakarta Post reported.
“Although there are different opinions among police investigators, most agreed that the case should be settled in an open trial,” said Indonesia’s Criminal Investigation Department, Comr. Gen. Ari Dono, in a press conference, as quoted by the local daily.
Ahok has been barred from travelling overseas, Ari said, but it is uncertain whether the governor would be detained throughout the investigation.
The blasphemy allegation against Ahok, an ethnic Chinese and minority Christian who is an ally of the country’s president, has galvanized his political opponents in the Muslim-majority nation of 250 million, and given a notorious group of hard-liners a national stage.
Earlier this month, Jakarta was rocked by a massive protest by conservative Muslims against the governor. One person died and dozens were injured in the rioting.
The Nov 4 rally, which saw over 170,000 protesters flood the capital city, was held in the wake of an alleged insult Ahok made in quoting the Quran during a a campaign speech in Pulau Seribu last month.
Following the blunder, Ahok, who is running for a second term as Jakarta governor in the polls due in February next year, had made an open apology to the Muslim community over the incident.
The case, however, may put his reelection campaign at risk although the governor may still run for the post unless the courts decide on a guilty verdict.
Meanwhile, Ahok was quoted by the Jakarta Post as asking his supporters to accept the police’s decision, adding he would explore all legal avenues to challenge the decision.
“I’m calling on my supporters to accept me being a suspect. I believe that the police are professional,” he said.
Although most Indonesians practice a moderate form of Islam, blasphemy remains a criminal offence in the country which has seen a spike in prosecutions in the past decade.
Between 2004 and 2014, Amnesty International documented 106 convictions with some offenders being slapped with five years of prison.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press