Muslim hardliners stir discontent in Jakarta

Persecution | Supporters of Christian governor under investigation for blasphemy call for tolerance
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 12/05/16, 12:02 pm

At least 200,000 people turned out Friday for another round of protests in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, against the Christian governor’s allegedly blasphemous remarks.

Unlike the Nov. 4 protests by Islamic hardliners, Friday’s gathering remained peaceful. But opponents of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had hoped to rile up discontent at the rally. Indonesian authorities arrested eight people who planned to use the protests to agitate against Widodo, who is a Muslim and an ally of the suddenly controversial governor.

Barsuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly called Ahok, is running for reelection against two Muslims. After critics cited Islamic scriptures to sway voters against him, he quoted a Quranic verse to defend himself. A heavily edited video of his October remarks went viral, sparking an outcry  from Muslim hardliners and accusations of blasphemy, World Watch Monitor reported.

Before the controversy, Ahok was a popular governor. Thousands of Christians, moderate Muslims, and activist groups rallied on his behalf Nov. 19. Supporters returned to the streets Sunday to call for tolerance and unity.

But police are investigating blasphemy claims against Ahok, and in late November, authorities questioned him for eight hours, according to World Watch Monitor. Ahok recently asked people to pray that he gets a “fair and transparent” trial, The Jakarta Post reported.

Human rights group Amnesty International called on Indonesia to drop the blasphemy case, saying it set a “deeply worrying precedent.”

“By carrying out a criminal investigation and naming Ahok as a suspect, the authorities have shown they are more worried about hard-line religious groups than respecting and protecting human rights for all,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Amnesty International notes blasphemy cases often are used to target minority religions. The group counted 106 convictions for blasphemy between 2004 and 2014—100 percent of the cases brought during that time, according to WWM.

Ahok is the only Christian governor in Indonesia. He’s also ethnic Chinese, making him a double minority. The use of racial slurs against Ahok raised tensions among Chinese minorities, who make up 1 percent of the country’s 250 million people, and unnerved those who recall previous racial violence.

In 1998, mass protests during the Asian financial crisis led to the ouster of Chinese Indonesian dictator Suharto. Mobs angry over Suharto’s corruption attacked Chinese property and people indiscriminately. Many died. Nearly two decades later, Jakarta’s Chinatown remains scarred by the burned shells of buildings torched in the chaos.

“Certainly as Chinese descendants, we are still traumatized by the riots in 1998,” said Clement Alexander, who owns a grocery store in a narrow lane of the bustling Petak Sembilan market in Chinatown. “We heard that horrible event may happen again if the government fails to control the protests. It’s scared us, but we cannot do anything except pray.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Mon, 12/05/2016 05:05 pm

    3rd paragraph: "defending" should be "defend"

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Tue, 12/06/2016 09:40 am

    Thank you. We've corrected the error.