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Indonesia: Thousands of Hard-Line Muslims Rally Against Jakarta’s Governor for Alleged Blasphemy

Ultra-conservative Muslims argue they shouldn’t have a non-Muslim leader

Friday 4 November 2016, by siawi3


Yenni Kwok

5:18 AM ET

Photo: Adek Berry—AFP/Getty Images Indonesian Muslims march towards the presidential palace during a protest against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over an alleged blasphemy in Jakarta on Nov. 4, 2016.

The candidacy of Basuki has long been controversial among ultra-conservative Muslims, who argue they shouldn’t have a non-Muslim leader

Tens of thousands of Muslim protesters rallied in the heart of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta to demand the city’s Governor Basuki T. Purnama — popularly known by his Chinese nickname Ahok — to be prosecuted for alleged blasphemy.

The protesters, many who traveled from outside Jakarta, filled Istiqlal Mosque, the city’s biggest house of worship, and later marched to the presidential palace. After Friday prayers, the crowd rallied beneath a banner reading “Detain Ahok,” while white-clad protesters sang and chanted, “Kill Ahok.”

Other protesters yelled, “Topple Jokowi,” referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose party backs Basuki in the gubernatorial election next year. Authorities deployed about 20,000 police and military personnel in anticipation of violence and many schools and offices gave students and employees a day off. But by the afternoon, save for some racist and violent chants, the protest was largely free of clashes.

The candidacy of Basuki — who is ethnic Chinese and a Christian — has long been controversial among hard-line and ultra-conservative Muslims, who argue they shouldn’t have a non-Muslim leader. The protests were called after claims the governor insulted Islam. In a speech on Sept. 27, he said: “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me because you’ve been lied to by those using [the Quran’s] Surat al-Maidah verse 51. That’s your rights.”

Hard-liners at the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) — a religious organization that has long been at odds with the uncompromising Basuki — seized the opportunity to accuse him of blasphemy, report him to the police and whip up anti-Chinese sentiments.

Read More: Indonesia Reaches Racial Milestone With Chinese Governor of Jakarta

Basuki has since apologized for his remark, but the police investigation over the alleged blasphemy continues. Defenders of Basuki said a transcript of his words that went viral on social media had been edited.

Friday’s protest didn’t escape the attention of Indonesian jihadists. Photos circulated on social media appeared to show pro-al-Qaeda fighters in Syria posing with “anti-Ahok” messages. There were also reports of Indonesian ISIS supporters calling on sympathizers to commit terrorist acts in the country on Friday. Jakarta has been on high alert for days, following fears that extremist Muslims from across the country would be flocking to the Indonesian capital.

After saying nothing for weeks, President Jokowi — who was Jakarta governor before his deputy, Basuki, succeeded him — scrambled Monday to try and cool tensions by visiting his political rival Prabowo Subianto. Subianto’s party endorses another candidate for Jakarta’s gubernatorial election. The President also met with leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organizations, and the Indonesian Ulema Council the following day.

One the eve of the mass demonstration, the Communication and Information Ministry blocked 11 Islamic websites deemed to have spread hate speech.

“I think the fear of trouble, the overwhelming presence of police and the exhortations by all Muslim leaders to ensure that it stays peaceful have kept it relatively orderly — so far,” Sidney Jones, of the Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, tells TIME.

On Oct. 14, the FPI led around 50,000 protesters, from the Indonesian capital and outside, to demand authorities prosecute Basuki for blasphemy.

The rise of Basuki as Jakarta governor was hailed as a milestone in 2014, 16 years after an anti-Chinese riot engulfed the Indonesian capital. Political observers say that his case would be a test for Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population that prides itself as a beacon of democracy and tolerance.

The race for Jakarta’s top job is a hotly contested one. One of the three contenders is former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son. So far, Basuki leads in opinion polls.

“Very few people have had the courage to suggest that what Ahok said was aimed not at the Quran, but at the people who were using a Quranic verse to suggest that a non-Muslim couldn’t govern non-Muslims,” Jones tells TIME. “What’s at stake is the quality of Indonesian democracy: Will public policy continue to be set by hard-liners and mass action in the street, and will anyone stand up for the right of non-Muslim Indonesians to have an equal right with Muslims to govern?”

With reporting by Febriana Firdaus / Jakarta



Weekly 5: When protests in Jakarta turn ugly

The Jakarta Post

| Fri, November 4 2016 | 08:55 am

JP/Jerry Adiguna

As the nation’s capital, Jakarta is the center of government, business and media. It is no wonder then that Jakarta is often a popular place for citizens to vent their anger and protest. However, not all protests are peaceful. The protest in 1998 turned into a riot, leading to casualties. Here are five recent protests that disintegrated into riots, causing injuries and vandalism.

FPI versus Ahok

Today’s protest against incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahja Purnama will not be the first. Hard-liner group Islam Defenders Front (FPI) protested the inauguration of Ahok as governor after Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected President in October 2014.

The protesters demanded that Ahok step down from his position as he was Chinese and Christian. Ahok was not present during the protest. He was attending the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in South Korea.

The protest in front of City hall caused injury to 10 police officers after they were pelted with rocks by FPI protesters.

The police arrested two coordinators of the protest and another FPI member.

Kampung Pulo eviction

On Aug. 20, 2015, Kampung Pulo turned into something akin to a war-zone after the city administration refused to negotiate with residents living on the banks of the Ciliwung River in South Jakarta and decided to simply demolish their houses.

Protesters, mostly youngsters, turned into an angry mob after the administration’s refusal to engage in dialogue. They started to throw stones at more than 2,000 security personnel from the Jakarta Police, the military and the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP). The security personnel advanced and demolished houses on 519 land plots. Dozens of people were injured, two motorcycles were broken and an excavator was set on fire in the clash.

The police unleashed tear gas to empty out the location. The gas ended up affecting the elderly and children who were still trying to move their belongings.

The police apprehended 27 people allegedly involved in the clash, some of whom were severely beaten.

Taxi drivers versus Go-jek drivers

A protest by at least 10,000 drivers, mostly taxi drivers, against ride-hailing apps such as Go-jek, US-based Uber and Malaysia-based Grab turned into a brawl at many spots in the capital in March.

Taxi drivers and Go-Jek drivers who met on Jl. Sudirman during the protest engaged in a brawl by throwing rocks at each other. The incident caused a standstill on Jl. Sudirman until police officers broke up the brawl and forced the groups to retreat.

Meanwhile, a Go-Jek driver was forced by taxi drivers to get off his motorcycle while he was passing through Senayan wearing his Go-Jek jacket and helmet. He was punched in the face, and suffered facial bruises. A taxi driver was also beaten up by Go-jek drivers in a separate brawl, also in the Senayan area.

Furthermore, several Go-jek drivers broke the windows on angkot (public minivans) with their helmets in Kota Tua in retaliation, forcing the angkots stop operating.

Wage rage

A demonstration in front of the State Palace on Oct. 30, 2015, demanding that the government revise a regulation on the annual minimum wage determination mechanism ended with the arrest of 24 workers, some of whom had refused to leave after the regulated rally hours.

As many as two activists from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) also reportedly suffered from serious injuries when the police violently dispersed the protesters.

An existing regulation dictated that the demonstration had to end at 6 p.m. and police officers warned the protesters to immediately leave Jl. Medan Merdeka Utara, in front of State Palace, at 6:30 p.m.

Around 2,000 protesters left the location after the warning, but some 3,000 workers remained in place. A third warning was delivered at 7:15 p.m. and finally, the police used force to disperse the protesters after a water canon failed to expel them from the street. The vast majority of protesters left after tear gas was used, but 24 workers remained.

Some 12,000 workers from Jakarta and its surrounding cities demonstrated in front of the State Palace, and many of them wanted to spend the night on the street and await a government response to their demands.

FPI attack

Members of the FPI attacked National Alliance for Freedom of Faith and Religion (AKKBB) activists who were holding a rally to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of Pancasila at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta in June 2008.

The incident injured 34 people.

The AKKBB earlier announced the event to the public through newspapers, saying that they endorsed pluralism. The AKKBB called on the country to respect different beliefs and protect minorities who practiced different belief systems, such as the Ahmadiyah sect.

Thousands of Ahmadiyah followers in the country now live under constant threat of violence and discrimination after being declared blasphemous by several hard-line groups.

FPI spokesman Munarman told radio reporters at the time that the incident was a reaction to the alliance’s offensive statement in several newspapers.

The police deployed 1,200 officers but did not arrest anyone in the incident.

The attack was quickly condemned by human rights activists, politicians and the Muslim organizations Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).