by Lydia Verniory – Human Rights Lawyer. Foreign Relations Expert. Senior Consultant, former United Nations
It all began when Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was sentenced last year to two years in prison for what the local judicial authorities call ‘blasphemy’.
He had cited a verse from the Qur’an which he said was misused to lure and deceive voters into believing non-Muslims should not lead Muslims and that such things should not be allowed in civilized societies and democracies. Because of his strong stance against corruption (including corrupt clergy), Ahok is very popular among the masses.
Ahok became the governor of Jakarta in 2014 and was contesting for the same position in the February 2017 elections and a second victory was at hand. Jakarta is the most prominent province of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Ahok is the first ethnic Chinese Christian to hold governorship in five decades.
He was often in the spotlight for his outspoken eloquence and steadfastness against corruption. He was popular for providing better public services to all citizens in the fields ofhealth, education, and a justice system of equality; and THAT was the real blasphemy both corrupt judges and clergy were after. They sacrificed civilization; a very thin layer indeed, and in their deeds by applying an illegal and largely disproportionate sentence to no offense.
Ahok’s opponents adopted to attack his faith. In their speeches, they reminded that it would be a sin if Muslims voted for a non-Muslim, citing verse 51 of Sura Almaidah, “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.” These Islamic clerics rendered the verse as do not take Jews and Christians as your leaders. Indonesia has been under the political and economic influence of Saudi Arabia for years which has had been guiding through massive influence, the Indonesian Islamic Society and Government, bringing unnecessary challenges to the pluralistic society and inserting hatred, thus creating new Islamist Terrorist Movements.
The present agitation against a Christian governor is an emerging example of the Islamisation in the country. Non-state actors are creating deep roots of religious hatred in society denying pluralism.
To counter this narrative, Ahok addressed a huge gathering at the end of September in Jakarta and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me because you’ve been lied to [or fooled] with Surat Almaidah 51 [Sura 5:51] and the like. That’s your right. If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell, because you’ve been lied to [or fooled], no worries. That’s your personal right. These programmes will go forward. So you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Follow your conscience; you don’t have to vote for Ahok.” His speech went viral in October, and the content of his speech was considered a ‘blasphemy’ against Islam by the Clerics. The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) filed a blasphemy case against Ahok. The Ilsamist organisation urged people (many of whom are illiterate) to come for protest in Jakarta’s streets though moderate Muslims are not listening to their calls.
Criminal laws that penalize blasphemy represent an unlawful restriction on freedom of expression, and disproportionately target persons belonging to religious minorities or traditional religions, non-believers and political dissidents. The Government initiated the prosecution of Mr. Purnama following the pressure of a fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), as well as aggressive media campaigns and sometimes violent protests launched against him. It is simply imposturus. Instead of speaking out against hate speech by the leaders of the protests, the Indonesian authorities appear to have appeased and encouraged incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination because they could care the least. This case also illustrates that the existence of blasphemy law is legal charlatanism that can be used to justify intolerance and hate speech and target a competent leader. Blasphemy law is not compatible with a democratic society like Indonesia pretends to be and it harms religious pluralism in the country.
The case against the Christian governor is a clear example of political victimisation, which happens when political parties use support from fundamentalist and non-state actors, like Saudi Arabia. The darkest aspect of these scenarios is that blasphemy laws are used to settle political and social scores. The country’s blasphemy laws have proved such an effective political tool that they will be used more frequently and against Christians. Basuki’s jailing is condemned by several human rights groups, including Amnesty International. Several civil society groups laid out protest for his jailing. A renown music composer and conductor Addie MS conducted a singing protest in front of the Balai Kota. Candle-lit vigils were lit in various cities. Many observers and individuals both inside and outside of Indonesia have also petitioned the Indonesian government to amend the blasphemy law on the basis that it is discriminatory and targets minorities. The promotion of three judges from the panel a few days after the verdict has also raised considerable suspicions and spurred criticism from many Indonesian citizens.
This March, the Supreme Court of Indonesia will prioritize the process of the case review submitted by former Jakarta governor Basuki Ahok Tjahaja Purnama after being convicted of blasphemy in May last year. Supreme Court law and public relations bureau head Abdullah said on Tuesday the documents had been sent to the court via general entry procedure. Abdullah said he predicted the court would consider speeding up the process of the case review, “because the [Ahok] case receives widespread public attention”. North Jakarta District Court head of public relations Jootje Sampaleng confirmed the information, saying the documents had been signed and sent to the Supreme Court. Amid pressure from a string of rallies by conservative Muslim groups last year, the Christian politician of Chinese descent, who had been seeking reelection as governor, lost the race and was sentenced to two years in prison. A week ago, Ahok’s lawyer and sister, Fifi Lety Indra, told the media after the case review hearing last month that she believed the North Jakarta District Court had made a mistake in declaring Ahok guilty of blasphemy.
In this context, my present intervention is part of this effort for well-fought battles to preserve world peace and stability. In the face of a strong symbolic protest, I call on every agency, organization, as well as every individual, to be vigilant and fight their battles for the sake of humanity. There is only one race. Humans.