JAKARTA : More than 100,000 Indonesian Muslims protested Friday against Jakarta’s Christian governor, the second major demonstration in a matter of weeks as conservative groups push for his arrest on accusations of insulting Islam.
People in white Islamic robes packed out a massive park in the capital, chanting Islamic verses and singing the national anthem, with over 20,000 security forces deployed to prevent a repeat of violence that erupted at the last protest against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, is being prosecuted for allegedly committing blasphemy over comments he made about the Koran during an election campaign, which have sparked widespread anger in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
The case is seen in part as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, where a reputation for pluralism has been eroded by a surge in attacks on minorities, but critics say it is also about politics as the governor’s foes whip up anger to reduce his support.
The decision to prosecute Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century, has not been enough to quell anger and conservative groups are now demanding his arrest. Protesters waved banners that read “jail Ahok” as they marched en masse through the city’s streets in the early hours to converge on the park.
“All we want is justice, and by justice I mean Ahok being detained,” said Ricky Subagia, 26, who had come 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the town of Garut to take part in the demonstration. National police chief Tito Karnavian was shouted down when he went up on stage in the park, with the crowd pumping their fists in the air and yelling “jail Ahok”, who is also a member of Indonesia’s small ethnic Chinese minority.
Jakarta police spokesman Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono estimated at least 100,000 protesters had converged on the park by mid-morning and said so far the rally was peaceful.
Tough blasphemy laws
Friday’s rally looked set to dwarf the first major protest against Purnama on November 4, which drew 100,000 Muslims — both hardline and moderate — onto the streets in the biggest demonstration that Jakarta has seen in years.
It was peaceful during the day but descended into violence as night fell, with Muslim hardliners hurling missiles at security forces and setting fire to police cars. Security forces responded with tear gas and water cannon, in clashes that left one person dead and hundreds injured.
Fears have been running high that there could be a repeat of the violence, with foreign governments warning their citizens to avoid Friday’s demonstration. Authorities and Islamic leaders agreed to restrict the latest demonstration to the downtown park and the event is scheduled to end by 1:00 pm (0600 GMT).
Police named Purnama a suspect in a blasphemy investigation earlier this month following the first protest. He is due to face trial and could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty of breaking Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws. The controversy started in September when the governor accused his opponents of fooling the electorate by misusing a Koranic verse to persuade voters not to support him in governorship elections.
Purnama’s opponents said the verse forbids Muslims from choosing non-Muslims as leaders. Purnama has apologised for the remarks, saying he was criticising his political rivals who were using the verse rather than the Koran itself, but the scandal has seen him slip into second place in the polls.
He had long been the favourite to win the February election after he gained huge popularity with his no-nonsense style and determination to clean up Jakarta, a crowded, polluted metropolis of 10 million. -AFP