An Indonesian court will prosecute Jakarta’s Christian governor who has been accused of blasphemy against the Qur’an, a judge announced on Tuesday.
A panel of judges rejected a petition by the legal defense team of governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname “Ahok,” to throw out the case because it had violated the politician’s human rights and disregarded procedural protocol.
As a Christian and an ethnic Chinese, Mr. Purnama has two strikes against him in the world’s most Muslim country and hardline Islamic groups have protested his rule ever since he was elected in 2014.
Last month, Islamic conservatives rose up against Ahok accusing the governor of having manipulated a verse from the Qur’an to support his claim that it is permissible for Muslims to be governed by non-Muslims. On November 4, a mob of 150,000 Islamic protesters staged a massive march in the capital city of Jakarta, demanding a death sentence for Ahok. Similar demonstrations took place in other cities throughout Indonesia.
On Tuesday morning, hundreds more protesters dressed in white gathered outside the courthouse in north Jakarta chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and calling for the governor to be jailed.
The lead judge on the panel, Dwiyarso Budi Santiarto, said the defense could appeal to a higher court if they did not agree with the decision to move forward with the case. After consulting his lawyers, Ahok told the court he would “think about it.”
At a first hearing on December 13, Ahok denied that he had intended to insult the Qur’an by citing it in a public speech in September, and reiterated his respect for Islam.
Outrage against Jakarta’s Christian governor is emblematic of rising tensions against growing Christian influence in the world’s most Muslim nation.
Earlier this month, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a religious decree (fatwa) prohibiting the use of Christmas-themed attire or accessories that recall a tradition foreign to Islam.
The fatwa 56/2016 harshly criticized the Christmas atmosphere invading public areas of the country, calling it “a foreign culture with which we must not mingle.”
According to International Christian Concern, an anti-persecution advocacy group, Indonesia is under assault from an “increasingly emboldened radical Islamic sub-group that is applying public pressure to adhere to conservative Islamic law.”
The group warned that fatwas like this may be used as a reason to attack or discriminate against non-Muslims during Christian holidays.
Ahok’s next court hearing has been set for January 3 and will be held in an auditorium in the agriculture ministry for security reasons, according to authorities.
If convicted of blasphemy, the Christian governor could suffer a jail term of up to five years.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome