JAKARTA - Indonesian police announced on Wednesday (Nov 16) that Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had been declared a suspect over alleged blasphemy, an offence that carries a maximum jail term of five years if a district court declares him guilty.
The police announcement comes after more than 100,000 Muslims took to the streets of Jakarta on Nov 4 to demand that he be sacked and prosecuted for allegedly insulting Islam.
"Police have decided to declare Basuki Tjahaja Purnama a suspect and bar him from travelling abroad," national police chief detective Ari Dono Sukmanto told a media briefing, explaining that there was, however, dissenting opinion among the 27 police investigators assigned to investigate the case.
Police will proceed with the investigation and, when completed, are required by law to submit the investigation dossier to state prosecutors, who will in turn table it before a district court if all the arguments in the police dossier are considered to have strong legal basis.
The brouhaha started in September after a video clip of Mr Basuki, better known as Ahok, was posted online. In the video, he is heard telling a group of constituents during a community event not to be misled by his opponents who were urging Muslims against choosing a non-Muslim as a leader by referring to a verse in the Quran.
Mr Basuki has since apologised for his remarks, but a police investigation was initiated after an outcry from some Muslim leaders as well as the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which led the mass march.
In a move to defuse tensions, the police was ordered to expedite the probe and deliver its findings in two weeks.
Mr Basuki was then called in to meet detectives for further questioning as part of the investigation. Six independent experts proposed by the FPI and another five by Mr Basuki's camp were then heard by the police to help with the investigation.
The Chinese-Christian politician had been widely expected to be re-elected as Jakarta governor after pushing through urban renewal projects, resolving the city's major flooding issues as well as cleaning up the city and clamping down on vice.
He and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat are backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) as well as a strong coalition of political parties, including Golkar, Indonesia's second-largest party after the PDI-P.
Mr Basuki and Mr Djarot are up against the Gerindra Party pair of former education minister Anies Baswedan and businessman Sandiaga Uno, and former military officer Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono - son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - and veteran bureaucrat Sylviana Murni.
Mr Basuki's campaign team earlier said that the incumbent governor will still run for the gubernatorial election next February even if he is named a suspect.
Despite the heat Mr Basuki has received in recent weeks from Muslim hardliners, he remains hugely popular. The coalition led by the PDI-P has also closed ranks behind Mr Basuki after the protests to fend off calls for him to be sacked.