Jakarta protest against gover­nor ‘blas­phemy’ draws thou­sands

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Tens of thou­sands of hard-line Mus­lims are march­ing against the gover­nor of Jakarta, de­mand­ing he is pros­e­cuted for blas­phemy.

Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama, a Chris­tian, is the first eth­nic Chi­nese to hold the gover­nor’s post in the cap­i­tal of ma­jor­ity Mus­lim In­done­sia.

Protesters ear­lier gath­ered at the Is­tiqlal Mosque and later as­sem­bled out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace.

Po­lice are brac­ing for the pos­si­bil­ity of re­li­gious and racial ten­sions.

In 1998, a wave of anti-Chi­nese sen­ti­ment led to mobs loot­ing and burn­ing Chi­nese-owned shops and houses. Eth­nic Chi­nese make up about 1% of In­done­sia’s pop­u­la­tion of 250 mil­lion peo­ple.

Chief of Jakarta po­lice Insp Gen Mochamad Iri­awan said fe­male of­fi­cers in hi­jabs would be de­ployed on the front line of the protest “as a hu­man­is­tic ap­proach”.

“We also have male po­lice of­fi­cers who are ex­perts in Is­lamic chant­ing and will sent them to the street if we need them [to calm the ten­sion],” he said.

About 20,000 se­cu­rity per­son­nel have been de­ployed for the protest. Po­lice said an es­ti­mated 50,000 peo­ple were tak­ing part.

The de­mon­stra­tion has ef­fec­tively shut down cen­tral Jakarta. Some protesters are car­ry­ing ban­ners call­ing for Mr Pur­nama to be killed, but the crowds have so far been peace­ful and the at­mos­phere at times fes­tive, she says.

Mr Pur­nama, know as “Ahok”, is plan­ning to run for a sec­ond term as gover­nor in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

But some Is­lamic groups have al­ready urged peo­ple not to vote for him, cit­ing a verse from the Ko­ran.

The verse is in­ter­preted by some as pro­hibit­ing Mus­lims from liv­ing un­der the lead­er­ship of a non-Mus­lim. Oth­ers say the con­text for that verse is a time of war and it should there­fore not be in­ter­preted lit­er­ally.

On 28 Septem­ber, Mr Pur­nama, in com­ments that were filmed, said those us­ing the pas­sage Su­rat Al­maidah 51 - against him were “ly­ing”.

“Ladies and gentle­men, you don’t have to vote for me be­cause you’ve been lied to, with Su­rat Al­maidah 51 and the like. That’s

your right,” he said.

The com­ments caused out­rage be­cause they were seen as crit­i­cis­ing a Ko­ranic verse.

Mr Pur­nama has since apol­o­gised but for­mal com­plaints were lodged against him by Is­lamic groups for defama­tion. He is now be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by po­lice.

There are other un­der­ly­ing ten­sions. In 2014, Mr Pur­nama was the deputy gover­nor un­der Joko Wi­dodo. When Mr Wi­dodo was elected pres­i­dent the main group be­hind the cur­rent protest - Is­lamic De­fend­ers Front - did not want Mr Pur­nama to suc­ceed him.

They ar­gued that a Chris­tian should not gov­ern a Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity city. the lat­ter be­came pres­i­dent The cam­paign against him has since taken on anti-Chi­nese over­tones. Jakarta po­lice said there were “provoca­tive state­ments and im­ages” on so­cial me­dia urg­ing peo­ple to take vi­o­lent ac­tion against Mr Pur­nama, in­clud­ing calls to kill him.

Some of the eth­nic Chi­nese busi­ness own­ers in Jakarta were ner­vous ahead of the rally.

“We are wor­ried that there will be small ri­ots, that they are cre­at­ing dan­ger,” Tommy, a TV store owner, said.

“We are pray­ing for the sit­u­a­tion to be un­der con­trol and safe,” he said from Glodok - the part of Jakarta where many Chi­nese-owned elec­tron­ics shops are con­cen­trated.

Dur­ing the 1998 riot, the area was badly dam­aged by loot­ers, along with re­ports of in­ci­dents of mass rape.

De­spite be­ing seen as brash and out­spo­ken, the gover­nor is pop­u­lar and has been praised by many for his ef­fec­tive­ness.

Mus­lims in In­done­sia are largely mod­er­ate and the coun­try’s largest Is­lamic or­gan­i­sa­tion, Nahd­latul Ulama, has ad­vised its 40 mil­lion mem­bers not to take part in the protest.

FPI has a his­tory of vi­o­lent at­tacks on mi­nori­ties and vi­o­lent protests and has led the cam­paign against Mr Pur­nama from be­fore the al­leged blas­phemy.

How­ever, the day be­fore the rally the group in­sisted it was not about him be­ing a mi­nor­ity.

“This is not anti-Chris­tian or anti-Chi­nese ac­tion,” Habib Riziek, a spir­i­tual leader for FPI said.

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