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Indonesia Islamists urge ouster of Christian governor accused of blasphemy

Governor of Indonesia's capital Basuki Tjahaja Purnama shows his ballot during an election for Jakarta's governor in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta

JAKARTA (Reuters) Indonesian Islamist groups on Monday called on the government to suspend the Christian governor of the capital and for the courts to convict him of blasphemy, demands they will make again at a rally outside parliament on Tuesday.

Islamist groups have held two big rallies since November against the governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is on trial for insulting the Koran, and in the midst of an election in which he hopes to win a second term.

“Our demands to parliament are that they urge the government to suspend Purnama … and urge the Supreme Court and judges to detain him and impose the maximum sentence,” said Muhammad al Khaththath of the Islamic People’s Forum.

The forum is one of the groups organizing the Tuesday rally.

Previous rallies drew hundreds of thousands of people and raised concern about the erosion of religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Purnama, Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese and Christian leader, denies insulting the Koran.

He has been allowed to remain in office while the court case is going on but faces up to four years in prison if found guilty of blasphemy.

His supporters say the charge against him is politically motivated.

Last Wednesday, he stood against two Muslim candidates in a city governor election but none of them got enough votes to win outright.

A second round is due in mid-April with Purnama competing against a former education minister, Anies Baswedan, who has appealed to the Muslim vote in the city of more than 10 million.

Jakarta police have stepped up security ahead of Tuesday’s demonstration which up to 10,000 people are expected to join, said police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

The Jakarta election is widely seen as a proxy battle for the next presidential election in 2019.

Purnama is a former deputy of President Joko Widodo, when Widido was Jakarta governor, and he is being backed by the president’s party.

Baswedan is backed by a retired general, Prabowo Subianto, who Widodo defeated in the last presidential election, in 2014, and who is promising a political comeback.

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  • Hundreds of thousands of people protesting and calling for the maximum penalty for blasphemy against the Koran. Great. What apologists hail as a moderate Muslim nation. Islamists are gaining strength and support almost everyone. Look at the continuing path of “secular” Turkey. Al-Sissi is trying to hold back the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. This resurgence started in the 1920s in Egypt with the Muslim Neighborhood’s concern that the decadent West was corrupting Muslims and has been gaining influence slowly but surely.

  • The NY Times Dec 13, 2016 article lets me know at least what was the subject of his remarks, and very significantly points to a page that explains in detail how that verse should be taken in context with many other verses in that same book. I wonder how many of the protesters have actually read those verses.

  • It seems likely, apart from the legal outcome, the Governor will likely lose his position in the upcoming election. As to the question of tolerance and context, religious extremists will never let such considerations affect their plans and impulses. Of course, the definition of extremism is subject to interpretation.

  • Why is that curious? Hundreds of thousands protesting is a significant number for such a minor statement. Behind every protester are people who feel the same way but don’t bother to protest. It still, however, represents a tiny fraction of the 262 million Indonesians.

  • Again, it is helpful to note that news items like this are a perfect example for why a democratic society needs separation of church and state. Blasphemy should never be a crime in a developed, modern and free society.

  • Purnama – more commonly known by his nickname, Ahok, is the Christian who has been charged with blasphemy against Islam. Despite the huge rallies that Islamists organised against him he still got 42% of the initial vote, the highest vote of any of the candidates, but not enough for him to win outright. See http://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2017/02/15/ahok-wins-round-one-of-jakarta-gubernatorial-elections/

    This result is not overwhelming but it is remarkable.

  • He’s also an ethnic Chinese whose popularity is due to Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate and modern Muslim majority country. So yeah I guess it is noteworthy. This incident is an indicator of the growing threat of Islamism.

  • Request for Information:

    Are there any reported or documented details of “Ahok” Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s religion, other than that he’s just a Christian and a Protestant?

    Was Mark McClendon of CBN Indonesia exaggerating when describing Ahok as a “God-ordained leader … Fearless in integrity, focused on being transparent godly leader”? (CBN News, 02-17-2017)  I mean, how can that ever be publicly known about the guy?

    Primary sources, please, if anyone has them.  Much appreciated.

  • I think Purnaka/Ahok’s popularity is due to the fact that he is good at his job. The rallies against him are certainly an indication of rising Islamism. However, the fact that so many voted for him despite this shows that there is quite a bit of opposition to this movement in Indonesia.

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