Massive rallies are being held across Indonesia since the conviction and arrest of the governor of the capital Jakarta, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was convicted of "blasphemy." About 9,000 Indonesians have submitted their national identity cards to serve as the guarantor for the Christian official's bail, according to local media.
The arrest of Ahok, who was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday after being found guilty of insulting the Islamic faith, has led to a wave of massive support from sympathizers who are protesting the unjust ruling as a wrong precedent for freedom of speech in the country and are demanding that his detention be suspended, according to The Jakarta Post.
While supporters in large numbers have regularly gathered around the area where Ahok is being held in detention and nightly candlelight vigils have been held across the archipelago, those who live away from Jakarta are planning to hold 1,000 more candlelight vigils in various parts of the country and abroad, the Post said.
Ahok's supporters are also collecting signatures and photocopies of identification cards to secure the suspension of the Christian governor's detention. One of the coordinators of the ID collection effort was quoted as saying that about 9,000 Indonesians had submitted their IDs as guarantors, but the requirement is for 10,000 guarantors.
Ahok, an ethnic Chinese who back in April lost his re-election bid in Jakarta, had angered hardline Islamic groups when he referenced passages in the Quran last September, arguing that his opponents were trying to use the Islamic holy book to deceive people into voting against him.
Thousands of hardline Muslims had marched on the streets in Jakarta, demanding that Ahok be jailed ahead of the city's gubernatorial election in April. Ahok had won the first round of voting held Feb. 15.
Many believe that Ahok's opponents had long been against the Christian governor due to his clean record and because he was seeking to remove corrupt practices from the system.
Ahok was appointed the governor of Jakarta in November 2014 after then Gov. Joko Widodo, affectionately known as "Jokowi," was elected president of the country with the world's largest Muslim population. Ahok was Jokowi's deputy at the time. Even during Jokowi's presidential campaign, Indonesia's extremist Muslim groups urged voters to oppose Jokowi to prevent the Christian official from becoming governor.
Ahok was declared a suspect in the blasphemy case in November 2016, after hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims held a rally to demand his prosecution. Ahok explained he didn't mean to insult the Quran.
A video posted on social media, which showed Ahok saying no one should manipulate verses from the Quran for political gains, "was edited by Buni Yani (a Facebook user and a university lecturer) in an attempt to show the governor discrediting a verse from the Islamic holy book during a meeting with local residents," Jakarta Globe reported earlier.
Ahok had been misquoted. The video makes it look as if the governor had said, "You've been lied to by the 51st verse of the (Quran's) Al-Maidah chapter," while he had actually said, "You've been lied to by [people] misquoting the 51st verse of the Al-Maidah," the Globe said in an editorial.
While the majority of the people in Indonesia are known to be tolerant and moderate, there are several extremist Islamist groups in the country. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 1,000 churches in the archipelago have been closed over the last decade due to pressure from such groups.