The stakes in Indonesia are high because:
Ahok’s blasphemy case is viewed by many as politically motivated, as it took place right on top of his re-election bid.
The prosecution in Ahok’s blasphemy case conceded that they had failed to present a compelling case and recommended reducing the charges. The maximum sentence he would receive under the new charges should have been two years’ probation. However, in a surprise move on what Human Rights Watch termed “a sad day for Indonesia,” the Court handed down a verdict of guilty to the original blasphemy charge and a two-year prison sentence! For an article on the reaction in Jakarta and around the world, check here.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”), 50, a father of three, was elevated from Deputy Governor to Governor of Jakarta in November 2014 when his predecessor and running mate, Joko Widodo, became President of Indonesia. This spring, Ahok campaigned for election to a full term. Had he won, he would have been the first Christian to be democratically elected Governor of Jakarta.
Unfortunately, controversy erupted when comments he made concerning a verse in the Quran were captured in a YouTube video. Jihadists staged massive and destructive protests demanding that Ahok go to jail (video featured here). In spite of Ahok’s 80% approval rating as governor, and in spite of having won the final campaign debate , Islamic hardliners were able to capitalize on the controversy to engineer his defeat in the election.
Many observers believed the controversy was politically motivated. Tobias Basuki of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta says, “This is not religious. This is actually an attack against clean and transparent government both at the local level and also against Jokowi (President Joko Widodo).”
An attack against clean and transparent government.
In the video, Ahok says, “Maybe in your heart you think you couldn’t vote for me, but you’re being lied to by using Al Maidah 51.” In English translation, this Quranic verse states that Muslims should not ally themselves with Christians or Jews, although in the Australian news video featured here, Muslim cleric Abu Jibral appears to quote it differently. When challenged, Jibral went on to say:
“Allah says that infidels are hypocrites and liars…. If Ahok doesn’t get the punishment he deserves, not according to the demands of Muslims, then Muslims will get angrier. And when they get angrier we don’t know what will happen.”
– Muslim cleric Abu Jibral
During the trial proceedings, witnesses who were expected to testify against Ahok…didn’t. The man who organized a massive protest against Ahok was himself been named a suspect in a defamation case. According to a Jakarta Post article, Muslim witnesses called by the defense praised Ahok, citing examples of his concern for Muslims.
The prosecution ultimately admitted that they couldn’t make a credible case and recommended reducing the charge from blasphemy to “showing animosity toward others.” (Which is apparently only a thing if those others are Muslim…) Rather than a potential five-year prison sentence, under the new charges Ahok would face at most two years on probation.
So the surprise was sharp when, instead of convicting Ahok of the reduced charge, the court returned a conviction of blasphemy and a two-year prison sentence! For reactions, see this article in The Guardian.
The Ahok controversy aside, acts of violent persecution have been escalating in Indonesia. Please continue to pray that Christians there will be able to follow Jesus in peace.
Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia, with a population of more than ten million in the city proper and more than thirty million in the metropolitan area. Ethnic Chinese, like Ahok, represent around six percent of the population and Christians around ten percent.
The protests hardliners have organized against Ahok devolved to looting and had to be quelled with tear gas. Chinese Jakartans interviewed for the video featured here were clearly fearful that violence they endured in the late nineties will resume.
And please don’t forget to: