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Indonesia Protest: 200,000 Call for Arrest of Christian Governor Ahok Over Alleged Blasphemy

At least 200,000 conservative Muslims gathered in Indonesia in a show of force to call for the arrest of Jakarta's Christian governor over accusations of blasphemy.
Indonesian Muslims gather to attend rally calling for the arrest of Jakarta's Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, who is accused of insulting the Koran, in Jakarta, Indonesia December 2, 2016.

Reuters/Beawiharta

At least 200,000 conservative Muslims gathered in Indonesia in a show of force to call for the arrest of Jakarta's Christian governor over accusations of blasphemy.

The protesters are double the size of last month’s rally, indicating they want to send a stronger message against Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, more popularly known as Ahok, whom they claimed insulted the Quran in one of his speeches.

The rally was led by the hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

“Let's defend our religion," FPI leader Rizieq Shihab addressed the crowd, according to AFP. “Stop all forms of religious blasphemy and put all violators on trial.”

Authorities deployed more than 20,000 security personnel as a measure against possible eruption of violence on Friday’s protest. The Nov. 4 rally, which was relatively peaceful during the day, ended in violence that left one dead and dozens injured.

Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo, a known supporter of Gov. Ahok, joined the mass prayer held at the national monument during the rally. He asked the protesters to disperse peacefully, and after shouts calling for Gov. Ahok’s arrest, the crowd began to leave, Washington Post reported.

The Christian governor, who is also from the country’s ethnic Chinese minority, is running for governor in the February 2017 election. Known to be firm in his resolve to clean up Indonesia’s capital and backed by Pres. Widodo himself, he was seen as a strong contender for the gubernatorial race in Jakarta.

However, the hardline group Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) has been campaigning against him to prevent his election because he is a non-Muslim. The group has been reminding Muslims that it is a sin to vote for a non-Muslim and that they should not have an “infidel” for a leader.

Ahok addressed such campaigns against him in a public speech saying the people should not allow themselves to be fooled by such teachings.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you don't have to vote for me because you've been lied to [or fooled] with Surat Almaidah 51 [Sura 5:51] and the like. That's your right. If you feel you can't vote for me because you fear you'll go to hell, because you've been lied to [or fooled], no worries,” he said. “That's your personal right. These programs will go forward. So you don't have to feel uncomfortable. Follow your conscience, you don't have to vote for Ahok.”

His comments, for which he has already apologized, gave the FPI a springboard to accuse him of blasphemy and launch the first protest against him in October, which drew a crowd of about 10,000.

Ahok’s case was formally accepted for trial on Thursday, one day before the scheduled Dec. 2 protest. 

Although it is a predominantly Muslim nation, Indonesia guarantees freedom of religion through its Constitution.

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