Indonesian police have named Jakarta's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, as a blasphemy suspect in a case that has sparked fears of rising ethnic and religious tensions in the world's most populous Muslim country. The move came after investigators gathered testimonies from witnesses, linguists, Muslim clerics, and lawyers. Blasphemy allegations against the governor, who is of Chinese descent, surfaced in early October, after a video of a Sept. 27 speech, in which he allegedly insulted the Quran, went viral on the internet. About 150,000 Muslims took to streets in Jakarta on Nov.4 demanding the governor's arrest. One man died, while over 100 others were injured during the protest. Several stores owned by Chinese-Indonesians were also looted. An infant died and three other children were injured when a Protestant church was later petrol bombed in Kalimantan province on Nov. 13, raising fears the attack could be linked to the row involving the embattled governor. "After discussions, the investigation team decided, although not unanimously, that Ahok is a suspect, and this matter should be resolved in open court," Ari Dono Sukmanto, Head of Police Investigation Department, told reporters Nov. 16. The police also issued a notice preventing Ahok from traveling overseas while further investigations are carried out. Petrus Selestinus, a lawyer and an Ahok supporter accused police of bowing to pressure from Muslim extremists who plan another mass protest on Nov. 25. "We have to swallow a bitter pill because of this public pressure," Selestinus told ucanews.com. Police spokesperson Boy Rafli Amar denied the move to name Ahok a suspect was the result of pressure from Muslim groups or the governor's political rivals. "It's not because of pressure. No matter how strong the pressure is, if there is no evidence at all, police would not make Ahok a suspect," he told ucanews.com. The decision was based on evidence gathered as a result of an investigation, he said. Yosefina Syukur, a spokesperson for Ahok's lawyers, questioned the police decision, saying the governor should not have been named a suspect if all investigators did not unanimously agree. "Ahok did not commit blasphemy," she said.
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Ahok called on his supporters to remain calm. "I accept being named a suspect. I think this is what all citizens should do in a democratic country — follow the law," he told reporters yesterday. Despite being named a suspect, Ahok will still be able to stand for reelection as Jakarta governor in polls scheduled for Feb. 15 next year. "We are convinced he will win. Because this issue is being fanned by his political rivals," Selestinus said. Recent polls show Ahok is ahead of his main rivals — Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and former education minister Anies Baswedan. "Let's win it in just one-round, and prove that I am innocent," Ahok said. Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (center, second row with glasses) known by his nickname Ahok, is asked questions by journalists at the police headquarters in Jakarta on Nov. 7. Indonesian police have now named him as a suspect in a blasphemy investigation. (Photo by AFP)