Leader of `deviant` Muslim sect goes on trial in Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia - The leader of a Muslim sect denounced as heretical by Indonesian clerics could face up to five years' jail on charges of blasphemy and insulting an official religion, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The leader of the Al Qiyadah Al Islamiyah sect Ahmad Mushaddeq faced South Jakarta district court after earlier claiming he was a Muslim prophet.

"Ahmad Mushaddeq is charged with insulting a religion ... because he claimed he is the prophet of Almasih Al Maw'ud or the saviour," prosecutor Muchammad Muhadjir was quoted by AFP as telling the court.

A key tenet of mainstream Islam is that Mohammad was the final prophet, and will not be followed by any other messengers from God.

Al Qiyadah Al Islamiyah was proscribed as "deviant" last year by the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), the peak group of religious scholars with semi-legal authority.

Mushaddeq handed himself in to police along with six other followers in October, and has since publicly retracted his claim to prophethood.

Muhadjir said the sect leader could be jailed for up to five years under Indonesia's contempt of religion laws, which apply to the country's six official religions.

Mushaddeq's lawyer, Dahlia Abduh, told reporters outside the courtroom that the charges should be dropped because her client had withdrawn his claim.

About 90 percent of Indonesia's population are Muslim. Most practise a tolerant form of the religion, which sometimes incorporates Hindu and animist beliefs.