Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama on Tuesday denied charges of anti-Islamic blasphemy before an Indonesian court, saying he had not intended to insult Muslims as his trial got underway in the country’s capital amid strict security.
Purnama, the first ethnic Chinese and Christian to govern the capital of the world's most populous Muslim nation, is charged with insulting the Koran, an offence that carries a possible five-year jail term.
The governor said his comments were aimed at rival politicians who, according to him, were trying to get an unfair advantage by using a Koranic verse to convince voters not to support a non-Muslim.
Purnama has apologised for his remarks, which angered Muslims across Indonesia. Tens of thousands of Muslims took to the streets in November and December, calling for Purnama's arrest and urging voters not to re-elect him in February.
Over 100,000 people attended the major rallies in Jakarta, the biggest the capital has seen in nearly two decades.
The governor gave an emotionally charged defence against the charges, pausing several times to compose himself as he maintained his innocence.
"I know I have to respect the holy verses of the Koran. I do not understand how I can be said to have offended Islam," Purnama said, occasionally dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief.
Purnama is running for re-election as Jakarta governor against two Muslim candidates.
The high-profile case has gripped national attention, and stoked fears of growing intolerance towards minorities in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.
The governor's supporters say Purnama has shaken up the city's sleepy bureaucracy and taken steps to ease the city's notorious traffic.
But, the scandal has eroded his chances of re-election, with his opponents gaining ground in recent weeks.