Christian-Chinese Governor Listed as a Suspect in Blasphemy Trial in Indonesia
Rise of Radical Islamists Threatens Rights of Minorities
11/16/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Jakarta’s first Chinese-Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok) is being investigated for allegedly committing blasphemy by the Indonesian police. Police have gathered 40 testimonies against Governor Ahok and the accusation is to be settled in court according to Reuters. The governor has not been arrested, but is not allowed to leave the country as the investigation proceeds.
Governor Ahok was appointed as governor in November 2014 after the incumbent governor, Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi), won his bid for the presidency of Indonesia. The accusations against Governor Ahok center around a speech he gave to a group of fishermen on September 27, during which he said that the Quran was being used against him to convince people that they could not vote for him. In this speech, Governor Ahok insisted that the Quran did not prohibit voting for a non-Muslim.
Following the speech, The Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), organized protests drawing between 100,000 and 200,000 protesters to Jakarta calling for Governor Ahok’s removal and even death. Unfortunately, these protests were not based on an actual quote by Governor Ahok, but rather on a doctored video of the September 27 speech which was edited to make the speech seem blasphemous.
Conservative groups, such as the FPI, want to depict President Widodo and Governor Ahok as anti-Muslim. FPI maintains strong ties with former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and was given greater influence during his administration in pushing for conservative Muslim practices. Yudhoyono’s son is also running against Governor Ahok in the 2017 election and Yuhoyono himself told the media that he supports the protests “300%.”
Indonesian Christians have also expressed their fear and dismay over the investigation. One local Christian who lives in Java told ICC, “To be honest, this is crazy. [The protesters] have one agenda, put Ahok in jail so he can’t run for governor.”
A local pastor also told ICC, “Ahok became suspected of defaming the Quran not because he did so, but because of the pressure from radical Muslim groups here.”
The line between religious conservatism and political intrigue is becoming increasingly blurred in Indonesia. The founder of the Institute for International Peace Building in Indonesia, Noor Huda Ismail, said, “You see people no longer talking about the blasphemy case, but about wanting to topple the government.”
Indonesia historically is a moderate country in which many religions have shown tolerance for one another. The events of the past year, including the Aceh church attacks in 2015, the protests against Ahok in Jakarta, and the church bombing that occurred this weekend in Samarinda, highlight a trend of increasing religious intolerance. The Setara Institute has also noted an increase in cases of religiously motived violence in Indonesia. Many Christians have expressed fear that this could represent the beginning of a new wave of discrimination against minorities.
Daniel Harris, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “ICC strongly condemns this blasphemy allegation against Governor Ahok. By bowing to the wishes of Islamic radicals and listing Ahok as a suspect based on concocted statements, the Indonesian government is empowering an Islamic radical ideology. The government should not be afraid to call out these groups for fear of backlash or losing votes. As conservative Islamists gain political steam, the biggest losers are ethnic and religious minorities who are becoming less protected by their government. The government’s silence on this issue has created a vacuum that has allowed a radical ideology to flourish, threatening the safety of minorities and may soon threaten the stability of the country.”