Tuesday, November 8, 2016

RLPB 383. Indonesia: 'Blasphemy' fuels tensions

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 383 | Wed 09 Nov 2016

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2016 Sunday 13 November. Resources: http://idop.org/
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by Elizabeth Kendal

Jakarta, 4 November.
source: Antara/Akbar Nugroho Gumay
On Friday 4 November, up to 200,000 Islamic fundamentalists protested in Jakarta, calling for 'Ahok' -- the ethnic Chinese, Christian Governor of Jakarta -- to be prosecuted, imprisoned and even killed for alleged 'blasphemy'. When the protest descended into violence at the end of the day, one man died, at least 160 protesters and 79 police were injured, vehicles were torched, market stalls were looted and the Chinese-majority residential complex where Ahok and his family live was threatened. Organised by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), it was one of the largest demonstrations in Indonesia for many years.

Indonesia's hardline Islamic fundamentalists have long opposed Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama. Elected as deputy governor in 2012, running with Joko Widodo ('Jokowi'), Ahok ascended to the governorship in the wake of Jokowi's 2014 ascension to the presidency. In a foretaste of things to come, Jakarta's Islamic hardliners -- led by the FPI -- were quick to protest, vowing to resist the 'kafir' (unclean), ‘infidel’, 'devil' governor [see RLPB 282 (14 Oct 2014)]. Refusing to be intimidated, Ahok struck back, calling for the FPI to be disbanded. In January 2015 the Jakarta Globe named Ahok their 'Man of the Year' and 'Indonesia's Shooting Star'.

Whilst Ahok's alleged 'blasphemy' was the pretext for the 4 November protests, the real motivation lies in the 24 September announcement that Ahok -- a Christian -- would be contesting Jakarta's 15 February 2017 gubernatorial election. With polls showing Ahok the clear frontrunner, Islamic fundamentalist clerics moved quickly to remind Muslims that the Quran forbids Muslims from taking non-Muslims as allies or friends -- and therefore governors -- citing verses such as Sura 5:51 ‘... Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies [awliya] ...’

In a speech to city officials on 27 September, Ahok responded saying '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 ... you don't have to vote for Ahok.' (Translation by Sidney Jones). By 5 October video footage of the speech had gone viral on YouTube and Islamic fundamentalists were claiming Ahok had blasphemed against the Quran and the clerics.

The message from
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Syria)
Though Ahok apologised, it was in vain. Having taken up the Sharia cudgel of anti-blasphemy, his opponents were not about to put it down. What is more, they were receiving strong support from transnational Islamists. Indonesia expert Sidney Jones reports that on 29 October, photographs appeared on social media of non-Indonesian and fully armed members of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, (previously known as al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria) holding signs that said 'Sentence Ahok or We Will Sentence Him with Bullets', and in front of a large wooden box labelled 'Ahok's Coffin'. On 4 November -- the day of the Jakarta protest -- Islamic State used their messaging services to encourage their supporters to use the rally 'to fan the flames of jihad across the country'.

Ahok after 9 hours of questioning
on Monday 7 Nov.
The police investigation into the alleged blasphemy has begun. Almost 100 lawyers have come forward offering to defend Ahok in the event that he is taken to court for blasphemy. If the case proceeds to trial, President Jokowi -- who has been widely criticised for his silence and for failing to defuse the situation at the outset -- wants it televised live and over in two weeks.

For a full analysis see:

Indonesia: Ahok's 'Blasphemy',
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 30 Nov 2016

Update: Indonesian Blasphemy Trial Begins
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 13 Dec 2016

Update: On Tuesday 9 May 2017, the popular ethnic Chinese Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama was found guilty of ‘blasphemy’ and sentenced to two years in prison. Ahok was taken immediately to Cipinang detention centre in East Jakarta. However, in the early hours of Wednesday morning he was transferred to the National Police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimbob) detention center in Kelapa Dua, Depok, for security reasons. He decided not to appeal the decision 'for the good of the country'.


* protect and sustain Ahok and all Indonesia's Christians and churches -- particularly at this time, those in Jakarta and the ethnic Chinese. 'I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.' (Psalm 91:2 NIV)

* redeem these tense times so that ever more Indonesians will be awakened to the repressive nature of Islam, so they will resist fundamentalist and militant Islam, rejecting creeping Islamisation and repression, and choose instead equality, justice and freedom.

* intervene in the spiritual battle for Indonesia, so that freedom will advance and the Church continue to grow.


Indonesia's fundamentalist Muslim clerics have accused Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama -- the ethnic Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta -- of blasphemy, hoping to prevent him contesting Jakarta's February 2017 gubernatorial elections. The clerics assert the Quran forbids Muslims taking non-Muslims as allies (Sura 5:51) and therefore as rulers. When Ahok suggested this was a lie, he was accused of blasphemy. Led by the Islamic Defenders Front, up to 200,000 Muslims protested in Jakarta on 4 November, calling for Ahok to be prosecuted and even killed. Transnational jihadists have threatened to kill Ahok if he is not convicted, and Islamic State is calling its supporters to 'fan the flames of jihad in Indonesia'. A profound struggle is under way, with legal and spiritual dimensions. Please pray for Indonesia and its Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com