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Indonesia court: Jakarta governor blasphemy trial to proceed

Associated Press logo Associated Press 27/12/2016
Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok," gestures inside a court room during his trial at North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. Ahok is on trial for blasphemy following his remark about a passage in the Quran that could be interpreted as prohibiting Muslims from accepting non-Muslims as leaders. (Bagus Indahono/Pool Photo via AP) © The Associated Press Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok," gestures inside a court room during his trial at North Jakarta District Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. Ahok is on trial for blasphemy following his remark about a passage in the Quran that could be interpreted as prohibiting Muslims from accepting non-Muslims as leaders. (Bagus Indahono/Pool Photo via AP)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian court ruled Tuesday that the blasphemy trial of the minority Christian governor of the country's capital will proceed.

Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is charged with insulting Islam and desecrating the Quran by using one of its verses to boost his chances of winning re-election. Ahok, 50, is seeking a second term as governor in elections due in February.

The blasphemy controversy erupted when a video circulated online in which Ahok lightheartedly said that people were being deceived if they believed his detractors who asserted that the Quran prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader.

The five-judge panel overruled defense arguments that the indictment submitted by prosecutors had inaccuracies and should be annulled.

Hearings will resume next Tuesday at the North Jakarta District Court, which will be moved to southern Jakarta after the Supreme Court approved the prosecutors' request for a bigger courtroom.

Several hundred members of anti- and pro-Ahok groups have gathered outside the court for every hearing, but have been kept apart by police.

Protests against Ahok, led by conservative Muslims and which drew hundreds of thousands of people, have kept Jakarta, the capital, on edge for weeks. A Nov. 4 protest there turned violent, with one death and dozens of police and protesters injured.

Ahok, an ally of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, faces up to five years in prison if found guilty. He is the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta and the first Christian governor in more than half a century.

In his defense plea, Ahok said that his comments were not an interpretation of the Quran and that he was only referring to certain politicians "who exploited the verses incorrectly because they do not want to compete fairly in the election."

His blasphemy trial has shaken the government and exposed religious and racial fault lines in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

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