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Indonesia: UPDATE: Blasphemy appeal withdrawn 'for the sake of the people'

26 May 2017

Jakarta's Christian ex-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as 'Ahok'), has withdrawn his appeal against his two-year prison sentence for blasphemy in a controversial case that has challenged religious pluralism in Indonesia, with repeated clashes between Ahok's supporters and radical Islamic groups.

It was for this reason, said Ahok, that he wished to drop his appeal 'for the sake of our people and nation'.

"I know this is not easy for you to accept this reality, let alone me, but I have learned to forgive and accept all this," he wrote in a letter that his tearful wife Veronica Tan read out at a news conference on 23 May He also thanked his supporters and those who were praying for him, or sending him flowers, letters and books.

He also encouraged his supporters to forgive and accept the sentence. He showed concern for what could be the longer term results of a drawn out appeal process - for the people in Jakarta and beyond - as the likely protest rallies would cause Jakartans to 'suffer great losses, in the form of traffic congestion and economic losses resulting from the rallies'.

He also warned of more division in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, saying: "It's not right to hold rallies against each other over what I'm experiencing now. I'm concerned that many sides will exploit the rallies. There may be clashes with those who take issue with our struggle."

Churches on high alert

Churches in Jakarta are on high alert after Indonesia's capital was the target on Wednesday (24 May) for two suicide bombers. The attacks killed three policemen based at a bus terminal ahead of policing for a pre-Ramadan parade.

Yohanes Bao Keraf, head of security at St Joseph's church, which is a few kilometres from the blast, said: "There is a feeling of fear... we are co-ordinating with police on heightened security measures."

The church has good reason to be alarmed. Jamaah Islamiyah militants bombed St. Joseph's, and other churches in Jakarta and other cities, on Christmas Eve in 2000, killing 18. In 2016, members of the church escaped unhurt after an attacker, apparently inspired by the murder in France of Father Jacques Hamel, was overpowered by parishioners as he assaulted a church leader. A suicide belt the attacker was wearing failed to detonate.

Pray:

  • For Ahok as he serves his prison sentence, and thank God for his selfless attitude
  • That those divided by Ahok's case would be able to build bridges and that Ahok's supporters would be able to forgive the accusors
  • For protection from Islamist extremists for churches and police forces keeping the peace in Jakarta
  • That the increasing numbers of Indonesians with extremist views would move towards tolerance and peace.

International condemnation over Ahok 'blasphemy' imprisonment

18 May 2017

Last week's verdict of an Indonesian court, sentencing Jakarta's outgoing governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as 'Ahok', to two years in prison for blasphemy, has received widespread condemnation globally as politicians, academics and rights groups express their concern about religious pluralism in Indonesia.

Ahok, the capital's first Christian and ethnic minority governor since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy after accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him in the bid for re-election as Jakarta's governor.

A day after he lost the election to his Muslim contender, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him and recommend that, if he was found guilty, Ahok would serve no prison time. They suggested two years of probation with a possible one-year jail term if he committed a crime during that period. The judge however decided a harsher punishment was called for as he told the court: "Mr Purnama was found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment."

Ahok takes only a Bible

After sentencing, Ahok was transferred to a police prison in the outskirt of Jakarta because supporters began to mass and demand his release. The police facility does not provide a phone or television. Ahok's sister, Indra, said the only book he took with him was a Bible. "He loves reading his Bible. He has it with him and he can pray whenever he wants," she said.

Since the verdict was announced the streets in Jakarta have been filled with thousands of protesters. Supporters of Ahok dressed in red and white, the colors of the Indonesian flag, demanded his release. Acting governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat told the crowd to 'fight for justice'. "Last night I met with Ahok and he wants me to convey this message: 'We have to respect whatever the judges have decided, but the fight is not over yet'," he told them.

Politically motivated

The court case was seen as politically motivated, the ruling illustrative of the growing religious intolerance in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.

In an interview with Al-Jazeerah in January 2017 Ahok said that if he had not been running for re-election, there would not have been a problem. He also views the court case as 'a historic opportunity for our nation, if we can continue to build our nation according to our constitution, which says we are a united country based on unity in diversity. I am grateful that history has chosen me to be in this position today'.

Leaders and organisations condemn the verdict

Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) who is also a member of the Malaysian Parliament, criticized the verdict: "Indonesia was thought to be a regional leader in terms of democracy and openness. This decision places that position in jeopardy and raises concerns about Indonesia's future as an open, tolerant, diverse society," he said.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as 'a huge setback' for Indonesia's record of tolerance and for minorities.

Thomas Müller, Persecution Analyst for World Watch Research, added that it reminds the Christian minority as well as all other religious minorities of the fact that the accusation of blasphemy is a powerful tool in the hands of radical groups: "If even a well-connected public figure such as Ahok cannot escape trumped-up charges, how can normal citizens do so?"

Indonesia ranks as number 46 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. It hosts the world's largest Muslim population, the majority of which practises moderate Islam. However, fundamentalism has been on the rise, causing Christians and other religious minorities to be more vulnerable to false accusations and injustice in law enforcement.

Source: World Watch Monitor; Open Doors

Please pray:

  • For the Lord to be with Ahok during his imprisonment
  • That believers in Indonesia would remain steadfast in the face of growing Islamic extremism
  • That this blasphemy case would highlight the rise of religious intolerance in Indonesia and would result in its being challenged.

More News from Indonesia:

Find out more about persecution in Indonesia.