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Indonesia: Ahok’s sentence gives Islamic hardliners a boost

Tuesday 16 May 2017, by siawi3


Ahok’s sentence gives Islamic hardliners a boost
Protesters shouting slogans against Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama in Jakarta on May 5. The two-year sentence handed down to Ahok for blasphemy against Islam has heightened concerns about the growing influence of hardline Islamist groups in Indonesia. Photo: AP

Charlotte Setijadi

Published: 4:00 AM, May 12, 2017

The North Jakarta District Court’s decision to sentence outgoing ethnic Chinese-Christian Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok) to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam has heightened concerns about the growing influence of hardline Islamist groups in Indonesia.

The sentence marks a stunning turn in what has been a highly controversial blasphemy trial that began in October last year, after a video emerged of Purnama commenting on those who use the Al-Maidah 51 verse of the Quran as basis for not voting for a non-Muslim leader.

What was particularly shocking was the fact that the panel of five judges had imposed a sentence that far exceeded the one-year probation prosecutors had recommended, and that the judges had cited a firebrand Islamist as a Quranic authority.

During sentencing, as the judges dissected the Al-Maidah verse, they endorsed the interpretation of Mr Rizieq Shihab , the controversial leader of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), who argued that the verse forbids Muslims from voting for non-Muslims.

The court also dismissed suggestions that the case has been politicised, although most observers think otherwise.

For one, the massive street protests led by hardline Muslim groups such as FPI demanding a heavy punishment — and even death — for Purnama had put intense pressure on the court proceedings.

Conservative politicians and hardline Muslim leaders further polarised the landscape with the potent line that a vote for Purnama in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in April was a vote against Islam.

The entire blasphemy allegation, investigation, prosecution and trial against Purnama had been marred with irregularities from the beginning.

There were important procedures such as the issuing of official notices that were bypassed for the sake of expediting the case.

The trial continued during the Jakarta gubernatorial campaign despite appeals for it to be postponed until after the election for the sake of maintaining a fair election and civic peace.

It is possible that the verdict was intended to appease conservative Muslim factions. However, any hope of ever appeasing Islamic hardliners is unrealistic, with anti-Ahok protesters already complaining that the sentence was not harsh enough.

If anything, the outcome of Purnama’s trial has lent even more legitimacy to the demands and narratives of Islamic hardliners.

The Jakarta Governor is under police custody pending his appeal against the sentence. The appeal will be heard behind closed doors. This could mean less public scrutiny and pressure on the judges.

More optimistic observers have suggested that perhaps somewhere along the long appeal process, Purnama might be handed a lighter sentence, although it is very unlikely that his conviction will be overturned.

The legal implications of Purnama’s incarceration before the appeal process starts is unclear.

The most likely scenario is that he will soon be officially dismissed from his post as Governor, thus disabling him from serving the rest of his term, which expires in October.

The sentence also guarantees that Purnama could not be appointed to other governmental posts or run for other public office anytime soon.

Having said that, anyone who thinks that this is the end of his political career would be mistaken.

The guilty verdict only served to increase his martyr status in the eyes of his supporters, and Purnama is now an even bigger symbol of struggle for Indonesia’s liberals and progressives.

Immediately after sentencing, thousands of his supporters turned up at Jakarta city hall and at Cipinang prison where he is jailed to hold a candlelight vigil and show their support.

This is not to mention the outpouring of support expressed on social media.

Many hail him as “Indonesia’s Nelson Mandela†in the face of perceived injustice amid a worrying trend of rising Islamic conservatism.

Purnama’s blasphemy case sets a dangerous precedent for the future of religious tolerance, freedom of speech and the rights of minorities in Indonesia.

Ultimately, the problem lies in the existence of Indonesia’s blasphemy law itself. His trial shows that Indonesia’s blasphemy law could easily be manipulated for political means and be used as a tool of intimidation, particularly for religious minorities.

Since 2005, there have been at least 106 cases of blasphemy prosecution in Indonesia, almost all of them in prosecution of members of a religious minority, and all of them resulting in a guilty verdict.

On the eve of Purnama’s sentencing, the Indonesian government moved to ban Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, one of the hardline Islamic groups behind the massive anti-Ahok protests.

The move can be seen as an attempt by President Joko “Jokowi†Widodo’s government to curb the increasing power and influence of radical Islamist groups, especially in the wake of their recent efforts to provoke trouble in the capital.

While many in Indonesia support the ban, others label it as undemocratic, and there are also worries that such a move would provoke Islamic hardliners and strengthen their resolve.

However, if President Widodo is serious about combating religious extremism and defending the rights of minorities, then his government must, first of all, repeal legal mechanisms like the blasphemy law that have so far enabled the prosecution of those from religious minorities like Purnama.

Charlotte Setijadi is visiting fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.



Disbelief, anger and grief in response to Ahok conviction

By Asian Correspondent Staff

9th May 2017





Supporters of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama react near the court following his conviction of blasphemy in Jakarta, Indonesia May 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

THE two-year prison sentence handed down to Basuki “Ahok†Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy has been met with strongly mixed responses by those protesting outside the North Jakarta district court, Indonesian netizens and international observers.

Jakarta’s Christian governor was found guilty of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to jail on Tuesday after a trial that was seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

Ahok’s fans turned out in force to support him on the final day in court and were upbeat, with prosecutors previously calling for a relatively light sentence of two years’ probation with jail time were he to reoffend.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Governor Ahok gets rockstar treatment with flowers and trophies

Shortly after the court’s verdict, however, the mood changed drastically.

Some hardliners outside the courtroom responded with anger as they had hoped Ahok would be given the maximum sentence of five years under Indonesia’s blasphemy laws.


Indonesian hardline Muslims react after hearing a verdict on Jakarta’s first non-Muslim and ethnic-Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s blasphemy trial outside the court in Jakarta, Indonesia May 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

Jakarta’s deputy governor and Ahok’s running mate in the April 19 election Djarot Saiful Hidayat said that the court’s sentence “should have been lighter,†reported Tiga Pilar News.

Fadli Zon, an ally of Anies Baswedan who defeated Ahok in the April 19 election, called the panel of judges who convicted Ahok “great, independent law enforcement heroes.â€

The deputy House Speaker in Indonesian Parliament tweeted that: “The decision of the judges is in accordance with legal facts and represents the community’s sense of fairness.â€

SEE ALSO: Indonesia’s blasphemy laws and the oppression of minorities

“Today is one of the worst days in this republic’s life,†wrote the director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Democracy at Paramadina University in Jakarta, Ihsan Ali-Fauzi in a Facebook post.

“People will get the government they deserve,†added Ihsan, “In ten years to come, today will be remembered as a black spot in the history of our democracy. May our children and grandchildren really learn from it.â€

Tobias Basuki, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, tweeted that the verdict was a “complete farce.â€

Prominent Egyptian Muslim feminist Mona Eltahawy promptly responded to the news by tweeting “blasphemy laws must be abolished everywhere.â€

The sentence was “far worse†than expected and based upon “an illiberal law,†tweeted Aaron Connelly a Southeast Asia Research Fellow from the Lowy Institute.

Swathes of Indonesian netizens took to Twitter to express their astonishment, disappointment and anger at the sentencing.

One netizen was more optimistic, saying “I’m ready for the flood of those flower boards again. Cool.â€

Ahok will be jailed immediately and has been banned from public office for life. He has said that he will appeal the court’s decision.



Jailing of Ahok emboldens hardliners in and outside of Indonesia, say Muslim scholars

Protestors demonstrate against Ahok while the trial stretched out for a few months. (Photo: AP)

By Amy Chew

12 May 2017 08:00AM (Updated: 12 May 2017 12:10AM)

KUALA LUMPUR: It was the moment hardline Muslim detractors of Jakarta’s outgoing Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, had waited for. A south Jakarta court on Tuesday (May 9) found Purnama – also known as Ahok - guilty of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced him to two years’ jail.

Outside the courtroom, about 1,000 anti-Ahok hardliners cheered and shouted “Allahu Akbar†(“God is great†) while his supporters, many of them Muslims, broke down and cried.

The decision to jail Ahok has raised worries that moderate Islam in the world’s largest Muslim country is being eroded while hardliners grow in strength and influence – something that could have implications for the rest of the region, particularly in Malaysia.

A prominent Malaysian Muslim scholar warned that it will reinforce conservatism in his own country.

“This particular court verdict would reinforce the more conservative, bigoted interpretations of Islam in Malaysia, I have no doubts about it. Those (conservative) interpretations are already very strong in Malaysia,†president of the International Movement for a Just World, Chandra Muzaffar, told Channel NewsAsia.

“Its impact on a country like Malaysia is worse than its impact on Indonesia, where counter-trends and counter-narratives are still strong. You have NU, civil societies and others who speak out,†said Chandra, referring to Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest moderate Muslim organisation. “In Malaysia, there is no counter-narrative.â€

He noted that court rulings pertaining to religious matters have been more or less conservative over the past 15 years. “That sort of conservative trend is going to be even stronger,†Chandra added.

A Member of Parliament from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) has alleged that the judges in Ahok’s case bowed to public pressure. Ahok’s two-year jail sentence is much harsher than the one-year suspended sentence that prosecutors had called for.

“(We are sure) that the judges ruled so due to pressure and intervention, not based on legal facts and evidence," PDIP’s Charles Honoris was quoted by The Jakarta Post as saying.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Islamist party PAS was quick to make an example of Ahok when he lost April’s gubernatorial election.

“This success clearly shows a signal of Islam’s uprising there. When you insult Islam, don’t think Muslims will not act by rejecting you as a leader. The Jakarta election has proven it,†the Malay Mail Online quoted PAS information chief Nasrudin Hassan as saying.


Nahdlatul Ulama, which has 50 million followers, conceded that hardliners have scored another big win following Ahok’s defeat in the gubernatorial election. The campaign was marked by fiery hate speeches from hardliners who called for his death and denounced his Muslims supporters as infidels, warning them not to vote for him.

“This is the second battle the moderates have lost. The war is not lost yet. We believe the majority of Indonesians don’t want radical movements to exist in Indonesia,†Yahya Cholil Staquf, secretary-general of NU, told Channel NewsAsia.

A day after Ahok’s jailing, thousands rallied at various points in Jakarta to show their support for Ahok and to defend the national motto of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika†(Unity in Diversity) to counter calls by hardliners to dissolve the Republic of Indonesia and replace it with an Islamic caliphate.

The straight-talking Ahok was both loved and hated for taking on the powerful elites in his efforts to clean up Jakarta’s bureaucracy and to develop the city.

He was sitting comfortably in opinion polls until a fateful speech to a fishing community last year, where he said political rivals were using a verse in the Quran to say Muslims cannot be led by a non-Muslim.

A video of his speech, doctored to make it appear that he had said the Quran was misleading people, went viral, sparking accusations that he had insulted Islam. It eventually led to him being charged and convicted of blasphemy.


The radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) spearheaded the anti-Ahok movement, mobilising hundreds of thousands of people in rallies, joined by other radical groups including Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) which the government is seeking to disband.

HTI seeks to replace the secular Republic of Indonesia with an Islamic caliphate as part of a wider goal to establish a global caliphate.

NU’s secretary-general Staquf lamented that the Indonesia government appears to be afraid of radical groups, further emboldening them.

“What makes me concerned all this while is that the government appears … to be afraid of the possibility that the radical groups will threaten peace and security, cause riots and others,†said Staquf. “I see this happening not only in Indonesia but all over the world.
“I believe this is the wrong attitude to take as it leads to radicals blackmailing governments and societies.

“What is countered right now is violent extremism but not non-violent extremism, as if non-violent extremism is okay. Non-violent extremism is only one step away from violence. Both of them are dangerous ... they threaten peace and security everywhere in the world,†he added.

“The middle-class in Indonesia defends Hizbut Tahrir’s (right to exist) in the name of democracy. But the issue here is not about democracy, but groups which threaten peace and security,†the NU chief argued.

“I believe radical groups have to be eradicated as they are dangerous to all, everywhere in this world … like in Syria and Iraq. There is no need to be afraid of them,†he said.

FPI was established in 1998 and has a history of violent vigilantism where they conduct raids and attack restaurants and night clubs that stay open during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Scores of journalists have been attacked by FPI while covering the anti-Ahok protests in recent months and some of FPI’s members have even joined the Islamic State extremist group.


Given the role FPI played in contributing towards Jakarta’s newly-elected Muslim governor, Anies Baswedan and his deputy Sandiaga Uno’s victory, some residents are worried over the influence the group will exert over the new administration.

“One of the party they have to pay back (for their win) is FPI who supported them like crazy during their campaign,†said businessman Okki Soebagio. “I think the values they (Anies and Sandiaga) are going to show will be a lot more conservative and FPI could become a lot more radical in their acts (of vigilantism).

“I don’t think that Anies, who is an academician, can control such groups. That is my worry.â€

FPI has called Anies’ win a “victory for Islam.†“This is a victory of Muslims in Indonesia,†FPI spokesman Slamet Ma’arif told Channel NewsAsia, adding that the group boasts 5 million members.

NU describes the radicals as “very smart and strategic†. “We expect them to infiltrate deeper into the government through whatever conduit they can get from Anies being the Jakarta governor,†said NU’s Staquf.

“I also expect them to use the educational system to spread their views via religious teachers. They have been doing that for years.â€

Counter-terrorism expert and founder of the International Peace Building Institute Noor Ismail Huda warned that it would now be more difficult for the government to promote moderate and tolerant Islam.

“FPI will now have more political power ... since those radicals are sitting informally in any political decisions as they contributed a massive number of votes (during the election). FPI may not have formal political power but they will have cultural and social influence,†said Huda.

“I call this the mainstreaming of the radicals. As a result, the country will be held hostage by these radicals.â€
Source: CNA/ly



Indonesia Joins Repressive Islamic Regimes in Sentencing Ahok to Prison for ’Blasphemy’

Morning Star News
no date

Indonesia took a huge leap backwards in its reputation as a moderate Islamic democracy today when a court sentenced the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok†Tjahaja Purnama, to two years in prison for “blaspheming†the Koran.

The blasphemy accusation was key in Ahok’s defeat in a bid to be re-elected as governor of Jakarta last month. Islamic extremist groups opposed to having a non-Muslim lead the city organized massive demonstrations against Ahok, with some observers saying they were aimed at unseating the government of President Joko “Jokowi†Widodo.

The two-year prison sentence was shocking as prosecutors had recommended a two-year probation. Indonesian law allows a maximum sentence for blasphemy of five years in prison.

In its decision, a five-judge panel said Ahok was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy.†He was taken to Cipinang Prison in east Jakarta, the latest victim of one of the world’s blasphemy laws trampling free speech and religious freedom and being invoked with ulterior Islamist motives.

He said he would appeal, and it was unclear if that process would lead to his release.

The accusation of blasphemy stemmed from a video that appeared last September of Ahok telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim leader. The verdict is certain to embolden the Islamic extremists who erupted in jubilation at its announcement.

The charge arose after a speech Ahok made to city officials on Sept. 27, 2016, when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me because you’ve been lied to [or fooled] with Surat Almaidah 51 [Sura 5:51] and the like. That’s your right. If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell, because you’ve been lied to [or fooled], no worries. That’s your personal right. These programs will go forward. So you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Follow your conscience, you don’t have to vote for Ahok.â€

Video footage of the speech went viral on YouTube, and Islamic extremists claimed Ahok had blasphemed against the Koran and Islamic clerics. Ahok on Oct. 10 apologized “to all Muslims and anyone who felt offended,†saying it was not his intention to slight Islam or the Koran.

Saying the trial was purely legal and not political, lead judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said Ahok’s comments had degraded and insulted Islam, according to The Associated Press.

“As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions including the religion of the defendant himself,†he reportedly said.

But Wayan Sudirta, one of Ahok’s attorneys, said there was “so much pressure†for Ahok to be imprisoned, according to the AP.

Huge street protests against Ahok in the past six months are one sign of a hard-line Muslim movement in Indonesia. The AP notes that another sign is the long-standing habit of vigilante groups preventing Indonesia’s religious minorities from practicing their faith.