Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on the North Jakarta District Court to acquit Jakarta's governor, Ahok, who is currently on trial for blasphemy, ahead of local elections on 15 February. CSW also urges the Indonesian government to review the country's blasphemy laws and for blasphemy charges against suspects awaiting trial to be dropped.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as 'Ahok', is the governor of Jakarta and as a Chinese Christian, is Indonesia's most prominent ethnic minority politician. He has been charged with blasphemy, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years, despite a lack of credible evidence against him. He is also running for re-election on 15 February.
The court case against the governor was filed by several conservative Islamic groups after a statement he made on his re-election campaign trail went viral via an allegedly doctored YouTube video. Ahok quoted a Quranic verse on 27 September while addressing concerns that his political opponents may use the verse to discourage people from voting for him as a non-Muslim, but was falsely accused of criticising the verse itself, prompting allegations of blasphemy.
An estimated 500,000 Muslims turned up to a number of rallies in November and December 2016 to protest against his supposed blasphemy. The police officially charged Ahok on 13 November 2016 and his trial began on 13 December 2016.
CSW believes that the case against Ahok is part of a broader attempt to undermine Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in Indonesia. On 10 January, the Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) published a reportdetailing a steady increase in FoRB violations in recent years. The Setara Institute's latest report on FoRB documents 270 incidents of religious intolerance and 208 incidents of violations of FoRB in 2016, an increase on previous years.
Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority country, yet it rejected theocracy at its foundation and adopted a state philosophy known as 'Pancasila', giving equal recognition to the major religions. Rising religious intolerance poses a threat to Indonesia's strong tradition of religious pluralism. Further evidence of this, including abuses of the blasphemy laws, is found in Christian Solidarity Worldwide's 2014 report Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril.
Ahok's case is one of a number of recent blasphemy cases. A lecturer at the prestigious Universitas Indonesia, Ade Amando, was charged in December 2016 for writing on Facebook that: "God is not an Arab. Surely God would be happy if His scripture was read in the dialects of Minang, Ambon, China, Hip-hop, blues..." He could face up to 11 years in jail on two charges, under the blasphemy law and the Information and Electronics Transaction Act.
Three leaders of a spiritual movement known as 'Gafatar' are currently on trial for blasphemy in East Jakarta District Court. For the first time, a prominent Islamist leader, Rizieq Shihab, who leads the vigilante group the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which is responsible for violent attacks on religious minorities and many church closures, has also been charged with defamation of the Pancasila and blasphemy. Rizieq Shihab is one of the most prominent leaders of the campaign against Ahok.
CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, "Indonesia's blasphemy laws have long been a cause of injustice and division, and are misused for political reasons as well as religious intolerance to silence dissent, criticism or debate. They suffer from a very low threshold of requirements for evidence or proof of intent. Ahok's case has brought this to the world's attention, exposing the threat these laws pose to Indonesia's pluralism. Ahok has a track record of promoting pluralism and as an ethnic and religious minority he is a symbol of Indonesia's diversity. We believe that the blasphemy case against him is without basis and politically motivated in order to prevent his re-election in two weeks' time, and also an indication of rising religious intolerance in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. We call on the court to acquit Ahok, and we urge the government of Indonesia, particularly the National Police Chief and the President, to immediately drop all charges against all other suspects, including Rizieq Shihab and Ade Amandon, to cease using the blasphemy laws and to review and consider amending or repealing them. The promotion of FoRB in Indonesia must be prioritised, in line with the country's strong tradition of religious pluralism. This trial calls into question the strength of rule of law in Indonesia and if Ahok were convicted, it would mark a significant step backward for the country."
Courtesy of Christian Solidarity Worldwide