Indonesian Muslims protest against Christian governor


Huge crowds of Muslim protesters descended on Jakarta Friday to demand the Indonesian capital’s Christian governor be arrested for insulting Islam.

There was heavy security at the rally, with authorities wary of the kind of violence that marred the last demonstration.

People headed towards a massive park in downtown Jakarta to protest against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, who has become the target of widespread anger in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Waving banners that read “Jail Ahok, the law must be fair”, demonstrators dressed in white Islamic skullcaps and robes — many of whom had travelled from outside the capital — marched through the streets.

“All we want is justice, and by justice I mean Ahok being detained,” said Ricky Subagia, 26, who had come 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the town of Garut to take part in the demonstration.

Authorities did not have an immediate estimate of the number of protesters although tens of thousands appeared to be on the streets. Police have said that they expect at least 150,000 to take part.

Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century, is already being prosecuted for allegedly committing blasphemy over comments he made about the Koran in an election campaign.

But he has not been detained, and conservative Muslim groups are now pushing for his arrest.

The case is being viewed in part as a test of religious tolerance for Indonesia, where minorities have increasingly come under attack in recent years and the government stands accused of failing to rein in fringe, hardline groups.

But critics say it is as much about politics and accuse opponents of Purnama, also a member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, of whipping up anger and encouraging the protests to reduce his support ahead of February polls for the governorship.

Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed to keep the peace at Friday’s rally, which could dwarf a protest just weeks ago that drew 100,000 people onto the streets and was the biggest demonstration the city has seen in years.

The November 4 protest descended into violence as night fell, with Muslim hardliners hurling missiles at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

One person was killed and hundreds injured.

Police named Purnama a suspect in a blasphemy investigation earlier this month following the protest, as calls mounted for him to prosecuted.

The governor had accused his opponents of using a Koranic verse, which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, in order to trick people into voting against him.

© 2016 AFP

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