About 18,000 riot police and military personnel were deployed to Jakarta for the march on the presidential palace, which is expected to start after midday Friday prayers and break up around 6 p.m. local time. Some protesters held signs saying "Jail Ahok” and "Ahok Is an Enemy of Islam,” using the nickname of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ally of President Joko Widodo.
The protest comes as Purnama is locked in a three-way battle to run Jakarta that has become a proxy fight for some of the nation’s most powerful political figures, Bloomberg reported.
Widodo called for unity ahead of the rally while meeting with Muslim leaders and reaching out to political opponents, including former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose son is also running for governor.
Purnama said last month that voters were being deceived by people trying to use Quranic verses to say that Muslims are not permitted to support a Christian leader.
Yudhoyono and Muslim groups have said the comments amounted to blasphemy, which can land offenders in jail for as many as five years. Purnama has said it was a misunderstanding.
Police grilled Purnama for several hours over the comments on Oct. 24, and he was released without charges. National Police chief General Tito Karnavian said Wednesday that the governor would face further questioning over the comments.
Yudhoyono held a news conference on Wednesday in which he rejected claims that the protest was orchestrated by the governor’s political opponents, while insisting that police should continue to investigate the blasphemy charges.
"If we do not wish this country to get burned by the anger of justice-seekers, Ahok has to be processed in accordance with the law,” the former president said, referring to the governor. "He cannot be perceived as being above the law.”