Christian Governor of Jakarta faces blasphemy charges

Two years ago, amid protests from hardline Islamic groups, he was sworn in as only the second Christian Governor of  Jakarta, the capital territory of world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname “Ahok”,  is not only Christian by faith but also ethnically Chinese. He was not directly elected then. He was  the deputy to the then Governor Joko Widodo. When Widodo was elected national President he automatically became Jakarta’s Governor.

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Now as he faces re-election in February 2017, he is being accused by Islamic groups of blasphemy. The accusation came because he protested the use of a Quranic verse by his political opponents in the electoral campaign. This is the Quranic verse in question.

O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.                                               Quran     5:51

On October 14 there was a huge demonstration in Jakarta by Islamic groups urging the government to prosecute the Governor.

Hardline Muslim groups protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Hardline Muslim groups protest against Jakarta’s incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Thousands of people from hard-line Islamic groups gathered at Istiqlal Mosque in Central Jakarta and started to march through the city, pushing for criminal proceedings against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama over alleged blasphemy.

The protesters, most of whom were men dressed in white Muslim attire, were heard yelling, “We want a Muslim governor”, “Burn Ahok!” and “Kafir!”

“Indonesia is a country based on the rule of law. We want the state to show presence in this case, because the law has regulations on this [religious defamation],” Ja’far Shodiq, vice secretary general of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), said at Istiqlal Mosque on Friday.

Ja’far asked the protesters to carry out “peaceful action”. He also reminded the demonstrators to not be racist.

He said the protest was not connected to the upcoming gubernatorial election. The protesters only wanted to express their belief, which was in accordance with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which had said that Ahok had committed blasphemy by telling people in Thousand Islands regency not to be “deceived” by a Quranic verse, Surah al-Maidah: 51.

Even before this protest march  the Governor had clarified that what he said was not against Quran or Islam.

Ahok said a video published on social media, in which he mentioned the Quran’s al-Maidah:51 verse during a working visit to Thousand Islands regency on Sept. 27, was cut and edited and did not display his full conversation with the local residents.

“I did not say [things] that insulted the Quran. I did not say the Quran was stupid. What I said to the local people of Thousand Islands is that if you are fooled by racists and cowards using that verse in the Quran not to vote for me, then don’t vote for me,” he said on Friday as reported by

He mentioned the al-Maidah verse because the verse is often used by his political opponents to encourage people not to vote for him. Ahok’s opponents have used this line of attack against him since he started his political career in East Belitung in 2003.

He had to say the verse was not wrong, though it is obvious that the verse propagate hatred and suspicion of other religions.

“There is nothing wrong with the verses in the Quran. It was not the context [of my speech],” Ahok added.

Later he apologised for hurting religious sentiments.

“I want to apologize to Muslims or other people who feel offended. I never intended to insult Islam or the Quran,” Ahok said at City Hall on Monday.

Ahok said he was not anti Islam and cited some of his policies that he said had benefited Muslims, such granting permits for Islamic schools, providing Jakarta Smart Cards (KJP) to the students and building a mosque in the City Hall complex.

He added that during his speech made in the Thousand Islands on Sept. 27, in which he mentioned Surah al-Maidah, verse 51 of the Quran, the residents were not insulted.

“They even laughed while listening,” he said.

The former East Belitung regent said he regretted that his statement had created public uproar and hoped that the issue would soon come to an end.

The huge protest that Jakarta saw on October 14th proved that the issue will not end soon.

Current opinion polls show Ahok will win the elections with more than forty percent of votes.

Will that lead stand under the strong pressure from Islamic groups ?

Let us hope voters of Jakarta will not vote as per the Quranic verse and will thereby strengthen humanism and secularism.



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