Evangelist Franklin Graham has called on Christians around the world to unite in prayer for the Christian governor of Jakarta as he faces a blasphemy charge for allegedly insulting Islam.
According to the New York Times, the trial began yesterday for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is is ethnic Chinese and the first Christian in nearly 50 years to govern Indonesia's capital. Mr. Basuki, known as Ahok, is charged with violating blasphemy laws during a speech to fishermen in September.
In that address, Mr. Basuki reportedly cited a verse from the Quran that warns Muslims against taking Christians and Jews as allies. At the time, he quipped that due to Indonesia's transition to democracy in 1999, it was perfectly acceptable for Muslim voters to choose a Christian in the election for governor in February.
Mr. Basuki has denied the charges, and said his comments were aimed at politicians "incorrectly" using the Koranic verse against him, as reported by The Gospel Herald, and insisted his alleged remarks were not directed at the verse itself.
The prosecution says he insulted Islam by misusing the verse to boost public support ahead of the governorship election, according to the BBC. However, supporters have said the trial is a plot to keep the governor from being elected to the office, which he inherited when his predecessor won the presidency in 2014. Others say that his comments are being exploited in an effort to incite ethnic and religious hatred against Mr. Basuki, according to the Times.
In a Facebook post shared on Wednesday, Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, called on Christians worldwide to rally around the embattled politician.
"We need to pray for the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, who is on trial for what the Muslim's are calling blasphemy, which is ridiculous," Graham wrote. "He's the first non-Muslim governor of the Indonesian capital in more than half a century. They're coming after him because he's a Christian. Hard line Muslim groups have organized protests against him and some have even called for him to be lynched. This is the kind of persecution that is going on around the world in countries that are controlled by Islam. Pray for this man and his family."
The 64-year-old evangelist added that The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is holding the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, DC, May 10-13, 2017, to "expose this issue and to help educate the politicians in Washington and the American public to persecution happening around the world."
Indonesia the most populous Muslim country in the world, with Christians represent less than 10 percent of population. If convicted, Mr. Basuki faces a maximum five-year jail sentence.
As reported, there was widespread outrage after an edited video of his speech went viral in November. At the time, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in November in front of the State Palace (Istana Negara) to protest against the Chinese-born governor. In turn, his supporters circulated a video in which they stated his comments had been edited with misleading subtitles to change what he actually said.