Why is In­done­sia’s Chris­tian Gov on trial for blas­phemy?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Jakarta’s Chris­tian gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama is be­ing pros­e­cuted for blas­phemy, an of­fence that car­ries a five-year jail term in In­done­sia, over re­marks he made about the Qu­ran. The com­ments sparked wide­spread anger in the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try and the case is now seen in part as a test of re­li­gious tol­er­ance in In­done­sia. But crit­ics say it is also about pol­i­tics as the gov­er­nor’s foes whip up anger to re­duce his sup­port.

Who is on trial?

Pur­nama, bet­ter known by his nick­name Ahok, is Jakarta’s first non-Mus­lim gov­er­nor for half a cen­tury and a mem­ber of the coun­try’s tiny eth­nic Chi­nese mi­nor­ity. The 50-year-old has won huge pop­u­lar­ity with his no-non­sense style and de­ter­mi­na­tion to clean up Jakarta, an over­crowded, dis­or­ga­nized and pol­luted me­trop­o­lis of 10 mil­lion. But he has also faced con­stant op­po­si­tion from hard­line Is­lamic groups, who dis­like a non-Mus­lim be­ing in charge of In­done­sia’s cap­i­tal. He is run­ning for elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary.

How did this start?

Dur­ing a cam­paign stop in Septem­ber, Pur­nama told a crowd they had been “de­ceived” by his op­po­nents who used a Qu­ranic verse to try to put them off vot­ing for a Chris­tian. The speech went vi­ral, an­ger­ing mod­er­ate and con­ser­va­tive Mus­lims alike who con­sid­ered the re­marks of­fen­sive. Pur­nama apol­o­gized but In­done­sia’s top Is­lamic cler­i­cal body de­clared the re­marks blas­phe­mous. In Novem­ber more than 100,000 Mus­lims swarmed Jakarta in one of the largest mass demon­stra­tions seen in the cap­i­tal in years as hard­lin­ers burnt cars and clashed with po­lice, de­mand­ing Pur­nama face jus­tice. Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo vowed to swiftly re­solve the case, and po­lice of­fi­cially de­clared Pur­nama a sus­pect for blas­phemy.

In­done­sia’s con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees free­dom of re­li­gion but of­fi­cially only six faiths are rec­og­nized. Un­der tough laws dat­ing back to 1965, any­one who in­sults th­ese re­li­gions or de­vi­ates from their be­liefs can be charged with blas­phemy and jailed. Crit­ics say today the laws are ex­ploited to per­se­cute mi­nori­ties, like Shia and Ah­madi Mus­lims, and in some cases, even athe­ists have fallen foul of the leg­is­la­tion. In 2012, a man was sen­tenced to two-and-a-half years prison for writ­ing “God does not ex­ist” on Face­book.

Who else is in­volved?

The race to run Jakarta-In­done­sia’s fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal-has been a launch pad for the pres­i­dency and is al­ways closely watched. But this elec­tion, fu­elled by the blas­phemy con­tro­versy, is shap­ing up as a key bat­tle­ground for In­done­sia’s most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal fac­tions. Pur­nama is run­ning against two Mus­lim op­po­nents: the son of for­mer pres­i­dent Susilo Bam­bang Yud­hoy­ono, and a pop­u­lar exe­d­u­ca­tion min­is­ter backed by 2014 pres­i­den­tial run­ner-up Prabowo Su­bianto. An­other key player is the Is­lamic De­fend­ers Front (FPI), a hard­line Mus­lim group that has spear­headed the grass­roots cam­paign against Pur­nama. Their po­lit­i­cal heft and cre­den­tials as moral en­forcers has been bur­nished by the scan­dal.

The FPI and other Is­lamic groups have vowed to main­tain pres­sure un­til Pur­nama is pros­e­cuted. While rights groups fear the cam­paign against Pur­nama could fur­ther erode In­done­sia’s rep­u­ta­tion for plu­ral­ism and have urged po­lice to drop the case. Wi­dodo too is feel­ing the pres­sure. He has blamed “po­lit­i­cal ac­tors” for the in­sta­bil­ity and staged high-pro­file vis­its with mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to broad­cast an im­age of con­trol. But in the hours be­fore a De­cem­ber rally, 10 peo­ple were de­tained on murky al­le­ga­tions of trea­son. — AFP

Jakarta’s gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama

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