Police arrest leader of Muslim group behind Jakarta protests

31.03.2017

Indonesian police arrested the leader of a hardline Muslim group and several other activists for suspected treason ahead of a blasphemy protest in the capital Jakarta on Friday.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said Muhammad Al Khathath, leader of the Muslim Peoples Forum umbrella group, was suspected of involvement in a conspiracy to commit treason and was arrested at a hotel early Friday.

The forum, which includes the Islamic Defenders Front vigilante group, has been behind a series of huge protests against the minority Christian governor of Jakarta who is on trial for allegedly blaspheming the Quran.

The blasphemy case and the ease with which hard-liners attracted several hundred thousand to protest against Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama have undermined Indonesia's reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam and shaken the secular government as well as mainstream Muslim groups.

Yuwono said four other Islamic activists were also arrested early Friday. Local media said one of those men was the deputy coordinator for Friday's protest.

Ahok will compete in a run-off election for governor next week against a former cabinet minister backed by conservative Muslim clerics.

After Friday prayers, protesters planned to march from Istiqlal Mosque in central Jakarta to the nearby presidential palace.    (AP)

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