Jakarta governor grilled by police over blasphemy allegations

Ahok (centre) being escorted by police officers yesterday as he arrived at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta. The Jakarta governor was questioned by the police over his alleged insult of the Quran, a criminal offence that carries a jail sen
Ahok (centre) being escorted by police officers yesterday as he arrived at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta. The Jakarta governor was questioned by the police over his alleged insult of the Quran, a criminal offence that carries a jail sentence in Indonesia. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

JAKARTA • Jakarta's Christian governor was questioned by police yesterday for the first time since being named a suspect in a blasphemy investigation seen by critics as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Police are pursuing allegations that Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, insulted the Quran, a criminal offence that carries a jail sentence in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

The allegations have sparked much anger among Muslims - both moderate and hardline - with more than 100,000 taking to the streets of Jakarta earlier this month demanding that Ahok be prosecuted.

Ahok - who is Jakarta's first non- Muslim leader in half a century and a member of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority - declined to comment as he arrived for questioning at the National Police headquarters.

But his spokesman, Mr Ruhut Sitompul, said Ahok would continue to cooperate with police, who have ordered the governor not to leave the country.

"Our country is a country based on the law. Our President told us not to interfere with the police and to respect the law," Mr Ruhut said.

He thanked political parties, such as the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle, Golkar, Nasdem and the Hanura Party, as well as the United Development Party faction led by Mr Djan Faridz, which provided lawyers for Ahok.

Meanwhile, National Police spokesman Rikwanto said the police have questioned the 24 witnesses who named Ahok as a suspect on Nov 16.

He said the police would do their best to complete the governor's case dossier and submit it to prosecutors as soon as possible, as promised by National Police chief Tito Karnavian.

The massive demonstration earlier this month turned violent as hardliners torched vehicles and attacked the police, forcing President Joko Widodo to cancel a trip abroad to manage the crisis.

Police have vowed to crack down on hardliners who incite violence.

The naming of Ahok as a suspect suggests that the authorities believe they have enough evidence to consider filing charges.

He stoked anger in September when he accused his opponents of using a Quranic verse which suggests that Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders in order to trick people into not voting for him.

Ahok apologised for the remarks but pledged not to pull out of the Jakarta election in February despite the growing controversy.

Rights groups have urged the authorities to drop the case and repeal the blasphemy laws.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta governor grilled by police over blasphemy allegations'. Print Edition | Subscribe