By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org )
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (ANS-December 17. 2016) -- Indonesia’s only Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”), fought back tears during the first day of his Dec. 13 blasphemy trial.
After the first day, the trial was adjourned and will resume on Dec. 20.
According to an article by World Watch Monitor, the governor of the Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, of Chinese descent, is alleged to have “misused” a Qur’anic verse (which, some say, suggests Muslims should not be ruled by non-Muslims) during a speech in early October.
Some Muslim leaders accused him of insulting Islam by quoting from the Qur’an. He apologized, but said his comments were directed at politicians “incorrectly” using the verse against him and not a criticism of the verse itself.
The trial is widely seen as a test of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation’s stance on religious freedom, since the country has a large Christian minority.
World Watch Monitor said it was broadcast live on TV and Ahok continued to protest his innocence, telling the court “I had no intention of insulting Muslims or insulting the clergy. On that basis, I plead with the judges to consider my exception plea.”
World Watch Monitor said an edited version of his speech was posted online and went viral, sparking outrage. At a mass rally in the Indonesian capital on November 4th, demonstrators called for Ahok’s removal from power. On Nov. 16, police said he was being investigated.
The incident coincides with a rise in terror attacks targeting Christians, and Christians, rights activists and moderate politicians fear Indonesia’s increasingly fragile secular constitution is under strain.
Muslim leaders have called for the public to respect the legal process while the investigation continues. But the outrage caused by the speech, spearheaded by radical Muslim groups, has increased concerns that the majority-Muslim republic is swaying towards extremism.
Ahok said he has no intention to give up his place as the republic’s first Christian governor for decades, and has remained positive about his re-election bid.
World Watch Monitor said the Ahok case is one of a series of incidents that have seen radicals challenge secular political and civil affairs. In August, a teenage man attacked a priest with an axe during a Mass in Medan, North Sumatra, and failed to detonate a bomb in his backpack.
Earlier this month, a two-year-old child died and three other young children were injured when a man threw petrol bombs at a Protestant church in East Kalimantan Province. Some Indonesian Christians said they fear the attack was connected to Ahok’s case.
Two terrorism experts said recently that a five-year national de-radicalisation programme had not succeeded in reducing extremism. Analysts have been especially concerned by moderate Muslims’ hostility towards Ahok. Earlier this month, tens of thousands of moderate Muslims rallied alongside hardliners.
The Muslim Times ran an opinion piece arguing that Ahok losing his blasphemy case could be the tipping point for a republic once upheld as a model of pluralism and stable democracy in a shift towards a more conservative form of Islam.
From 2004 to 2014, blasphemy cases in Indonesia had a 100 per cent conviction rate. Human rights campaigner Andreas Harsono voiced concerns that the accusation may be being used as a “political tool” to derail Ahok’s re-election campaign.
For Christians, World Watch Monitor reported, much hangs in the balance. Some see their ongoing security and freedom tied to the fate of the accused governor of Jakarta. With a lengthy legal process ahead for Ahok, the coming months could hold much uncertainty for them as well.
For more information visit www.worldwatchmonitor.org.
Photo captions: 1) A happier looking “Ahok” during an election speech in Jakarta. (Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/AFP/GettyImages). 2) Members of the hardline Islamic group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), stab an effigy of the Jakarta Governor as they reject him in front of Jakarta’s City Hall. (Reuters). 3) Indonesian Muslims gather during a rally against Jakarta’s minority Christian Governor who is being prosecuted for blasphemy. 4) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds, who was born in Bournemouth, UK, is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. One of his more recent books is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on the book are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. His latest book is "Two Hearts One Vision." It is available at www.twoheartsonevisionthebook.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information, please contact Jeremy Reynalds at email@example.com .
** You may republish this and any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please also tell your friends and colleagues that they can receive a complimentary subscription to the ASSIST News Service by going to the ANS website (see above) and signing up there.