Indonesians pray for jailed Christian governor

ahok rally
Indonesians throughout the world have joined in prayer vigils over the weekend in support of Jakarta’s Christian governor, who was last week sentenced to jail for blasphemy.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, more commonly known as ‘Ahok’, was found guilty of intentionally insulting Islam and sentenced to two years jail. The trial was regarded by many as a litmus test for religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Approximately 500 people attended a public rally at Box Hill Gardens in Melbourne on Saturday while similar events were held in Perth, Sydney and Canberra. Diaspora communities in the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, New Zealand and Finland also joined in global prayer vigils over the weekend.

Many Indonesians changed their profile pictures on social media to a black square and some tweeted using the hashtags #Justice4Ahok and #RIPHukum, which means ‘RIP to the law’.

During the trial, the prosecution concluded that Ahok did not intend to insult Islam and requested that he be handed a suspended sentence, but the judges opted for the considerably harsher sentence of two years imprisonment.

Crosslight graphic designer Mirna Leonita, originally from Jakarta, said she fears the trial verdict is a step backwards for Indonesia.

“I feel sad, but also very angry because there’s a lot of injustice. I think many of Ahok’s political opponents are just using the blasphemy case to get rid of him,” she said.

“I think it’s political rather than religious and that’s what makes me angry. They use religion as a mask to get people to not vote for Ahok.

“Seeing Ahok going to jail instead of winning another term as governor and continue tackling corruption makes the future very gloomy for Indonesia. It’s like the country is going down again.”

The blasphemy case first emerged after Ahok criticised his political opponents for using a quote from the Quran to persuade voters not to support a non-Muslim candidate. Ahok argued he was criticising certain clerics’ interpretation of the Quran rather than the Quran itself.

But the comments were seized upon by radical Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, who accused Ahok of insulting Islam and organised mass rallies in November last year calling for him to be jailed.  Rizieq Shihab, the leader of the Islam Defenders Front, was called as an ‘expert witness’ during Ahok’s trial even though he was previously jailed twice for inciting violence.

The blasphemy case coincided with the 2017 Jakarta elections last month, which Ahok lost to Muslim candidate Anies Baswedan. Ahok had enjoyed an approval rating of 70 per cent prior to the blasphemy allegations.

Ms Leonita believes some Indonesian politicians are exploiting religious tensions to mobilise supporters against their opponents.

“Ahok and Jokowi have made some improvements to Indonesia by tackling corruption,” Ms Leonita said.

“What makes me angry is how selfish some of the corrupt politicians are. They would rather have more money for themselves than use it for the good of their own country.

“Seeing so many supporters of Ahok at the vigils in Australia and around the world gives me hope. But even if there are good people who want to tackle corruption, would they want to be in Ahok’s position again knowing there will be people who will try to bring you down?”

A candlelight vigil will be held in Melbourne at 8pm tonight in front of the Melbourne Rowing Club across the river from Federation Square. People from all faiths are invited to attend and pray for unity in Indonesia.

Image: @falstata/twitter 

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