In­done­sia blas­phemy protest draws 200,000

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

At least 200,000 con­ser­va­tive Mus­lims ral­lied peace­fully in the In­done­sian cap­i­tal yes­ter­day in the sec­ond ma­jor protest against its mi­nor­ity Chris­tian gov­er­nor, who is be­ing pros­e­cuted for al­leged blas­phemy. Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo, a po­lit­i­cal ally of the gov­er­nor who an­gered hard-lin­ers by be­ing out of the city dur­ing their first protest, un­ex­pect­edly went to the na­tional mon­u­ment to join Fri­day prayers with the sprawl­ing crowd. He called for pro­test­ers to leave peace­fully. They cheered and then broke into chants calling for Gov. Ba­suki “Ahok” Tja­haja Pur­nama’s ar­rest, but later, peo­ple streamed peace­fully out of the area and marched to a ma­jor traf­fic cir­cle be­fore dis­pers­ing.

The blas­phemy con­tro­versy erupted in Septem­ber when a video cir­cu­lated on­line of Ahok crit­i­ciz­ing de­trac­tors who ar­gued the Qu­ran pro­hibits Mus­lims from hav­ing a nonMus­lim leader. It has chal­lenged the im­age of tol­er­ance associated with Is­lam in In­done­sia, the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim na­tion, and has shaken the gov­ern­ment of Jokowi, who ac­cused un­named po­lit­i­cal ac­tors of try­ing to un­der­mine him. The son of for­mer Pres­i­dent Susilo Bam­bang Yud­hoy­ono is vy­ing against Ahok for Jakarta gov­er­nor in elec­tions set for Fe­bru­ary.

Po­lice said Fri­day they ar­rested eight peo­ple sus­pected of trea­son. Na­tional Po­lice spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told re­porters the group planned to use the protest to in­cite chaos and over­throw the gov­ern­ment. They in­cluded Rach­mawati, the daugh­ter of In­done­sia’s found­ing Pres­i­dent Sukarno and the younger sis­ter of for­mer Pres­i­dent Me­gawati Sukarnoipu­tri; re­tired army Gen. Kivlan Zein; and a well­known mu­si­cian turned politi­cian Ah­mad Dani. Two other peo­ple were ar­rested for al­leged crimes un­der In­done­sia’s law on elec­tronic in­for­ma­tion and trans­ac­tions.

Re­duce dis­rup­tions

Or­ga­niz­ers had agreed to con­cen­trate yes­ter­day’s protest around the vault­ing mon­u­ment to re­duce dis­rup­tions, but the area quickly over­flowed. Na­tional Po­lice spokesman Rik­wanto, who goes by one name, es­ti­mated 200,000 peo­ple were on the streets. Po­lice put on standby 22,000 of­fi­cers and 5,000 sol­diers. A Nov 4 protest against Ahok, the first eth­nic Chi­nese to be Jakarta gov­er­nor and the first Chris­tian in half a cen­tury, at­tracted about 100,000 peo­ple. Af­ter night­fall, it turned vi­o­lent, with one death and dozens in­jured.

Po­lice wanted yes­ter­day’s protest to dis­perse in the early af­ter­noon fol­low­ing prayers. Lis­nawati Djo­har, a res­i­dent of West Su­ma­tra’s Padang city, said she flew to Jakarta with a dozen friends for the protest. “I’ve been called to de­fend Is­lam,” she said. “As a Mus­lim, I feel guilty if I refuse a de­mand to de­fend my re­li­gion. I be­lieve Ahok in­sulted the holy Qu­ran and it’s hurt us.” Rizieq Sy­i­hab, leader of the Is­lamic De­fend­ers Front, a vig­i­lante group that helped or­ga­nize the demon­stra­tions, gave a fiery speech to the protest in which he as­serted In­done­sia would be peaceful if there was no blas­phemy and other prob­lems such as gays.

Speak­ing on the main stage at the na­tional mon­u­ment, Na­tional Po­lice chief Gen. Tito Kar­na­vian called for the pro­test­ers to sup­port the le­gal process in the blas­phemy case. The ac­cu­sa­tion of blas­phemy has an­i­mated the po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents of Ahok and Jokowi, in­clud­ing hard-lin­ers who have used the is­sue to seize a na­tional stage for their ex­treme agenda, which in­cludes the im­po­si­tion of Shariah law in a sec­u­lar na­tion. Ahok’s blas­phemy case took a step for­ward Thurs­day when it was for­mally ac­cepted for trial. The of­fense is pun­ish­able by up to five years in prison. Po­lice say Ahok can’t leave the coun­try dur­ing the case. How­ever, hard-line Mus­lim groups con­tinue to de­mand his ar­rest. — AP

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