A PROTEST has taken place in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, by Muslims calling for the city’s governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, to be detained on blasphemy charges. Police say that up to 200,000 people demonstrated against the governor, on 2 December. This latest protest came only days after about 10,000 people marched in support of the beleaguered governor (News, 25 November).
Despite being charged with blasphemy, Ahok remains at liberty. The protesters are demanding that he be detained in custody until the completion of his trial. On Tuesday, judges in Jakarta adjourned the case until 20 December. If found guilty, Ahok faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The charges stem from comments made by Ahok to fishermen in September. He told them that his opponents were misusing a verse from the Qur’an to argue that Muslims should not vote for him when he faces re-election in February.
He told judges this week that he was not speaking against the verse from the Qur’an — Al-Ma’idah 51, which tells Muslims “do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another” — but against the misuse of the verse by his political opponents.
Ahok is the first non-Muslim to hold the post of governor of Jakarta for half a century. He is also the first ethnic-Chinese governor of the city. He was widely seen as an ally and political partner of the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi. But Jokowi, himself a former governor of Jakarta, joined the protesters for prayers this month.
The constitution of Indonesia protects freedom of religion; but its blasphemy laws, introduced in 1965, have been used to target religious minorities and atheists. Muslims make up an estimated 87 per cent of the population; Christians form about ten per cent; while the rest are Hindu, Buddhist, and others.
The protests against Ahok are being co-ordinated by the radical Islamic Defenders Front (IDF) . The IDF campaigns for the Islamisation of Indonesia, and says that a Christian should not be in charge of a Muslim-majority city. The country’s largest Muslim political movement, Nahdlatul Ulama, has, however, urged its members not to support the anti-Ahok protests.