More than 200,000 Indonesian Muslims prayed in unison and chanted Koranic verses Friday in the second major demonstration against Jakarta’s Christian governor, as conservative groups push for his arrest for allegedly insulting Islam. People in white Islamic robes and skullcaps packed out a massive park in the capital, with over 20,000 security personnel deployed to prevent a repeat of violence that erupted at the last protest against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, is being prosecuted for blasphemy over election campaign comments he made about the Koran, which have sparked widespread anger in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
The decision to prosecute Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century and a member of the country’s tiny ethnic Chinese minority, has not been enough to quell anger and conservative groups are now demanding his arrest.
Protesters waved banners that read “jail Ahok” as they marched en masse through the city’s streets in the early hours to converge on the park, which surrounds the National Monument, a tall tower that looms over downtown Jakarta. Purnama is due to face trial and could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty of breaking Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws.
The controversy started in September when the governor accused his opponents of fooling the electorate by misusing a Koranic verse to persuade voters not to support him in governorship elections. Purnama’s opponents said the verse forbids Muslims from choosing non-Muslims as leaders. Purnama has apologised for the remarks, saying he was criticising his political rivals who were using the verse rather than the Koran itself, but the scandal has seen him slip into second place in the polls.