At least 200,000 Muslims protested in Jakarta, Indonesia, last Friday (2 December) demanding that the city’s governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, be arrested for committing “blasphemy”. The Christian governor is due to face trial for alleged anti-Islamic comments made in a video posted online which rejected claims that only a Muslim should be allowed to govern non-Muslims. He has not been detained. Ahok has apologised for any offence caused and stressed that he did not insult the Quran. In response to the mass protest, the second within a month, around 30,000 gathered on Sunday (4 December) calling for tolerance and unity.
Protestors last Friday waved banners that read “Jail Ahok, the law must be fair”. Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) which organised the mass protests, said, “Let’s defend our religion … Stop all forms of religious blasphemy and put all violators on trial.” President Joko Widodo, a political ally of Ahok, joined Muslim prayers at the National Monument before encouraging the protestors to peacefully disperse. National police chief: Tito Karnavian, spoke from the main stage and asked protestors to honour the legal process. “We have worked to finalise the dossier and have handed over to the prosecutors.” “Therefore, I request support from all of you so that the legal process goes well.”
The protest that followed on Sunday calling for tolerance and unity included speeches by political leaders from President Joko Widodo’s pro-government coalition. Surya Paloh, chairman of the National Democratic Party, said, “We have to fight to materialise the aims of our independence. That will not happen if we are scattered, blaspheming, humiliating each other and no longer trust each other.” Protestors also waved signs that read “We are Indonesia” and held aloft a giant national flag.
When Indonesia achieved independence in 1945 the state adopted Pancasila. This philosophy, which comprises of five principles, including a belief in one God and a commitment to national unity and communal peace, helped foster a tolerant society in which different religious groups peacefully co-existed. However, since the 1980s, when President Suharto began to use Islam to shore up his power base, this sense of equality and unity has waned, and Christians have increasingly suffered as a result. The widespread condemnation of Ahok – who could face up to five years in prison if found guilty – seems to reflect this discord and the growing Islamisation of the country.