Indonesia: Over 10,000 Rally to Support Jakarta's Christian Gov. Accused of Blasphemy

Jakarta, Indonesia
People take part in a rally against what they see as growing racial and religious intolerance in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 19, 2016. |

Over 10,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta on Saturday in support of the capital's Christian Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who is being investigated on alleged charges of blasphemy after he was accused of insulting the Quran. 

Just days after it was announced that police have charged the Muslim-majority country's only Christian governor with blasphemy amid false allegations that during a trip to the Thousand Islands in September he said Muslims are being lied to when they are told the Quran forbids Muslims to vote for non-Muslims, thousands of Indonesians marched in the streets on Saturday to call for unity and religious tolerance in Indonesia.

According to The Associated Press, many in the pro-Purnama demonstration, which took place at the National Monument at Merdeka Square in Central Jakarta and the surrounding blocks, were waving Indonesian flags and chanting, "United Indonesia cannot be defeated."

Additionally, lawmakers, religious leaders and human rights activists participated in the march.

"We are gathering here not to protest but to show that we are not easily divided by religious or political issues," Budiman Sujatmiko, a legislator from the country's largest political party, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, told AP.

Jakarta, Indonesia
Members of hardline Muslim groups hold a big national flag as they attend a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia. |
Jakarta, Indonesia
Members of hardline Muslim groups attend a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. The poster reads "Ahok should be jailed." |
An aerial view shows members of hardline Muslim groups attending a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor. The protesters, led by a group called the Islamic Defenders Front, chanted "God is greatest" and waved placards calling for Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, to be jailed for blasphemy. |
Jakarta, Indonesia
Muslim students broke the barb wire during a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, November 4, 2016. |
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Saturday's protest comes after at least 100,000 Muslims, led by hardline groups, protested in the streets of Jakarta earlier this month and called on police to jail Purnama over his alleged comments. At least one person died in the protest and several were injured.

Buni Yani, a communications professor at the London School in Central Jakarta who uploaded the video of the governor's alleged blasphemic conversation, said he edited his Facebook video to make it look like Purnama was insulting Muslims and the Quran, Asia News reported.

After being questioned by the National Police, Yani's lawyer, Aldwin Rahadian, said that his client had admitted to misquoting the governor's speech to make it look as if he said, "You've been lied to by the 51st verse of the [Quran's] Al-Maidah chapter," according to the Jakarta Globe

Rahadian subsequently confessed that in reality, the governor actually said, "You've been lied to by [people] misquoting the 51st verse of the Al-Maidah."

Purnama, who is in the midst of his re-election campaign, faced hours of questioning from National Police days after the protest. Now that he has officially been charged as a suspect in the blasphemy case, a crime punishable in Indonesia by up to five years in prison, the governor was questioned again on Tuesday at National Police headquarters.

According to National Police spokesperson Boy Rafli Amar, the agency is hopeful to have the case wrapped up in a matter of days or weeks.

"It's in our goal that the case dossier can be fully handed over to prosecutors in the next one or two weeks," Amar told the Jakarta Post.

As speculation has arisen that Muslim hardliners plan to take to the streets and protest against Purnama again on Friday, it is believed that there is a plot from certain hardline groups to try and "occupy" the city's Parliamentary Complex.

Jakarta police, however, are warning that any person who tries to overrun the Parliament building will be prosecuted for treason.

"In a public protest, crimes against the state and acts of treason against the president and vice president are prohibited," Jakarta Police Chief Gen. Insp. Mochamad Iriawan wrote in an official warning, The Jakarta Globe reports. "Those found to have committed such acts can face the death penalty, a life sentence or 20 years in prison as stipulated under the criminal code and other specified laws."

Another massive protest against the governor is scheduled for Dec. 2.

"If the protesters break the law, the police will come down hard on them," Iriawan said. "We have the power to break them up or arrest them."

Considering the charges against Purnama came after thousands of Muslims marched in the street to demand that he be jailed, human rights groups have called on the National Police to drop the investigation.

"By carrying out a criminal investigation and naming Ahok as a suspect, the authorities have shown they are more worried about hardline religious groups than respecting and protecting human rights for all," Amnesty International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Rafendi Djamin, said in a statement. "Among the police, opinion is divided on whether the case should proceed, showing that the decision to open an investigation against Ahok is a controversial step."

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