Jakarta: Indonesian police said on Wednesday they will pursue an investigation into a blasphemy complaint by groups against the governor of Jakarta, amid simmering religious and ethnic tension in the country.
The decision to officially name Basuki Tjahaja Purnama a suspect is likely to stoke concerns over rising hardline sentiments.
But dropping the case could have sparked further protests led by hardliners against Purnama and also against President Joko Widodo, who is seen as a key backer of the ethnic Chinese governor.
More than 100,000 people marched against Purnama this month, urging voters not to re-elect him in February.
Ari Dono Sukmanto, chief of the National Police criminal investigation department, told reporters that "the dominant opinion is that this case should be settled in court".
Purnama, who was barred from leaving the country, faces up to five years in prison if the case goes to court and he is found guilty.
Some analysts said the decision to pursue the case was a blow to democracy.
"It sets a bad precedent for minorities as the legal process can be dictated by public pressure," said Irine Gayatri, political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
Indonesia recognises six religions and is home to several minority groups that adhere to traditional beliefs.
The blasphemy allegations centre on a speech Purnama made in September in which he said his opponents had deceived voters by attacking him using a verse.
A social media user edited and subtitled a video of the speech but omitted a key word in the subtitles so it appeared the governor was criticising the verse rather than his rivals, police say.
The video went viral and incensed moderate and hardline groups alike.
The governor has denied blasphemy but apologised for the comments.
"I accept the status of suspect and believe in the professionalism of the police," Purnama told reporters.
"This is not just a case about me but about determining the direction this country is going in," he said, adding that he would continue to contest the Jakarta election.
Hardline groups have demanded that he resign.
"Groups and people will continue to safeguard this legal process... Blasphemy by anyone against any religion amounts to intolerance and anti-pluralism," said Din Syamsuddin, a member of the moderate group Muhammadiyah and Indonesia's top clerical council.
In a joint statement with other groups, he called on people to restrain themselves during the process.
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi urged all sides to respect the police decision.
"From the beginning, the president has said he would not intervene," Budi said.
Support for Purnama, once hugely popular for his tough, reformist approach to running the city of 10 million, has plummeted during the controversy, according to an opinion poll published last week.