The high-profile blasphemy trial of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has begun in Indonesia as dozens rallied outside the court both in support and against the Jakarta governor.
Tuesday’s protests were under heavy police guard, as Purnama – the first Christian governor of Jakarta in more than 50 years – arrived at court flanked by lawyers and police for the first day of his trial on charges of insulting the Quran.
The governor, better known by his nickname Ahok, bowed to the panel of five judges before being seated alone in the centre of the courtroom as proceedings began.
Purnama reportedly wept in court as he professed his respect for Islam, and the close connection he says he had as a child to his Muslim godparents.
He could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty of breaking Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws.
He ignited a firestorm of criticism in September when he controversially quoted a Quranic verse while campaigning in elections for the Jakarta governorship.
Purnama apologised, but his remarks angered many Muslim citizens, who marched against the governor in rallies larger than any seen in Indonesia in many years.
“This trial is very political,” Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Jakarta said. “It has come right in the middle of [Ahok’s] re-election campaign.”
Outside the court, dozens of protesters called for Ahok to be jailed.
Police guarded the court in heavy numbers, vowing to ensure there was no repeat of the violence seen at some protests against the governor.
The blasphemy saga has generated huge interest across Indonesia, with the proceedings being broadcast live on national television.
The Muslim-majority nation is home to 255 million people, roughly 90 percent of whom follow Islam.[blSource: Al Jazeera and news agencies]