Jakarta governor Ahok questioned by police over alleged blasphemy

Indonesian police questioned Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (pictured), also known as Ahok, over claims he allegedly insulted Islam. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesian police on Monday (Nov 7) questioned Jakarta's Christian governor for allegedly insulting Islam, after the accusations sparked a violent mass protest by hardliners in the Muslim-majority country.

Friday's (Nov 4) demonstration started peacefully but descended into chaos as night fell, with protesters torching police cars and hurling rocks and bottles in the heart of the capital as they demanded the leader be jailed for blasphemy.

Scores of police officers were injured and one man died amid the clashes close to the presidential palace, reportedly after tear gas fired by the authorities triggered an asthma attack.

The protest involving tens of thousands of hardliners was sparked by accusations that Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and a member of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority, had insulted the Quran during campaigning for elections for the Jakarta governorship.

Popularly known as Ahok, the governor said his opponents were using a Quranic verse which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders in order to trick people into voting against him.

Police had already launched the investigation into Mr Basuki, known by his nickname Ahok, before Friday's protest after Muslim groups accused him of breaking the country's tough blasphemy laws.

On Monday, the governor headed through a media scrum as he arrived at Jakarta police headquarters to be questioned as a witness in the case.

If found guilty, Mr Basuki - who is favourite to win the February elections against two Muslim opponents - could be jailed for up to five years.

However, he is yet to be named a suspect in the case, a step which would mean the authorities are considering filing charges.

Spokesman Agus Rianto pledged that police would conduct a fair investigation and people should not "doubt our neutrality", adding: "We will show the public our professionalism."

Mr Basuki has apologised for his remarks, claiming that he was criticising his political rivals who were using the verse, rather than the Quran itself. But this has done little to appease his opponents.

Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed before the rally in the capital of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, but it still took officers hours to quell the violence with tear gas and water cannons.

The protest also forced President Joko Widodo to cancel an official visit to Australia due to start at the weekend.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.