Thousands of protesters held a peaceful rally in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Saturday calling for unity and religious tolerance amid a blasphemy probe of the city’s Christian governor.
The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation has been divided by recent political and religious tensions, sparked by a government investigation into a Chinese-Christian governor who is accused of blasphemy against Islam.
Saturday’s event in downtown Jakarta saw people dressed in red and white – Indonesia’s national colors. The crowd included people from all walks of life – religious clerics, members of human rights groups, lawmakers, and concerned citizens – as they held up posters and chanted for unity among their country’s diverse peoples.
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Great image of today’s #IndonesiaBhineka rally in Jakarta. #BhinnekaTunggalIka pic.twitter.com/3bxVvJlsKM
— Max Walden (@maxwalden_) 19 November 2016
Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, has been crucified for insulting Islam by some members of the public, as well as opposition politicians, since he accused his rivals of “lying” about the meaning of a Koranic verse. Apologies haven’t helped, nor did the revelation that his comments had been inaccurately subtitled.
Rally for Indonesia’s diversity in Jakarta pic.twitter.com/OdNrlsquoO
— Step Vaessen (@stepvaessen) 19 November 2016
Islamists from near and far, including members of Al-Nusra Front in Syria, used the opportunity to pounce on the Christian-Chinese politician, accusing him of twisting the Koran and issuing calls for violence at a recent rally demanding his removal.
This has opened up old wounds, and the country now finds itself in the throes of a fresh ethno-religious upheaval that culminated in Wednesday’s decision to prosecute Purnama for making his remarks. He will now have to stand trial on the charge of blasphemy and could face up to five years in prison over the confusion.
#bhinnekatunggalika Ini Indonesia sesungguhnya. Wajah kita semua yg damai bersatu. Lihat Gak ada wajah kebencian. pic.twitter.com/xRPIdMERug
— Akhmad Dahlan (@aa_alland) 19 November 2016
Saturday’s counter-rally was called to demonstrate that there are opposing voices in Indonesian society.
“This is about diversity, but also about unity. We have to separate politics from ethnicity, religion, and race,” Iwan Saputra, 25, told Reuters, while stressing “I want Indonesia to stay united.”
“The economy is growing, infrastructure is being built everywhere. Don’t let this all be destroyed just because of ego,” Liberal Islam Network activist Saidiman Ahmad said.
Some analysts claim that the trial is an affront to democracy and a serious hindrance to efforts to build a tolerant and pluralistic society, given that Indonesia officially recognizes six religions. Although it subscribes to a moderate form of Islam, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and occasionally grapples with intolerance toward its religious and ethnic minorities, which include Buddhists and Christians. However, religious attacks are typically rather mild and often aimed at denying senior government positions to non-Muslims.
Unfortunately for Purnama, his high office and identity as a Chinese-Christian may as well have put a bullseye on his back. The governor’s remarks referencing the Koran drew over 100,000 people into the streets of the Indonesian capital earlier this month to demand his removal and call for the city not to vote for him in the upcoming February elections.
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