• Staff Writer

Protests against Jakarta Governor accused of insulting the Quran continue

Undeterred by the arrest of protest leaders, thousands marched in Indonesia's capital on Friday, calling for the jailing of the city's governor.

Following Friday prayers, the protesters marched from Istiqlal Mosque in central Jakarta to the nearby presidential palace, which was under heavy police guard. Protests against Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama have increased rapidly since September when he was charged with insulting Islam . His trial is still underway.

The turnout for Friday's protest was comparable to the hundreds of thousands who answered the call of Islamic groups to flood central Jakarta for demonstrations in November, December and February. Jakarta police's director of traffic Ermayudi Sumarsono estimated the crowd at 13,000 to 15,000. Police estimates are often conservative.

Protestors were angered last year when a video surfaced of Ahok telling voters that a Quranic verse was a lie. He said voters were being deceived if they believed the verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from being ruled by a non-Muslim as leader.

Earlier Friday, police said they had arrested Muhammad Al Khaththath, the leader of the Muslim Peoples Forum umbrella group, and several other activists. "We are not cowed by the arrest of our leaders," said a protester who identified himself as Wahyudi. "We'll keep fighting for the dignity of Islam. There's no room for a abuser of Islam to lead in this nation."

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said Al Khaththath and the other activists were arrested early Friday. Local media said one of those men was the deputy coordinator for Friday's protest.

The varsity of Ahok's comments has led huge numbers of people to protest in a country known for practicing a moderate form of Islam. Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Indonesia, punishable by up to five years in prison. Ahok will compete in a runoff election for governor next week against a former cabinet minister backed by conservative Muslim clerics.

He was popular with Jakarta's middle class because of his drive to eliminate corruption and his efforts to make the overflowing polluted city more livable. But demolitions of some of the slum neighbourhoods that are home to millions and ill-considered outspokenness proved to be his Achilles' heel.

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