Indonesia president, VP urge calm ahead of hardline Islamic protest
Leader of hardline Muslim group Islamic Defenders Front Rizieq Shihab walks to meet the call of the Criminal Investigation Police during an investigation of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama in Jakarta
Leader of hardline Muslim group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Rizieq Shihab walks to meet the call of the Criminal Investigation Police during an investigation of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 3, 2016 Antara Foto/Puspa Perwitasari/via REUTERS
By Kanupriya Kapoor
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his vice president called for peace as tensions rose on Thursday ahead of a protest planned by hardline Muslim groups against the Jakarta governor, a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese in the job.
The groups claim that Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama, popularly known as "Ahok", had insulted the Koran and was guilty of blasphemy. They plan a protest rally on Friday.
Security has been tightened in Jakarta, a sprawling city of 10 million, and police have deployed armored vehicles and armed personnel as the plan stoked religious and ethnic tensions in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.
"Everything and everyone should continue to work as normal, schools should run as normal," Widodo said in a joint statement with Vice President Jusuf Kalla.
Kalla added: "The government will listen to all opinions...but I believe because the protest will be carried out on Friday, a holy day, protesters will be respectful. That is our hope."
But some businesses have told employees to stay home on Friday, citing fears that violence could erupt during the rally.
Police said dozens of social media accounts had been found "publishing provocative statements and images" and urging people to take violent action in the name of Islam against Purnama, including calls to kill him.
"We have seen racially and ethnically divisive statements being spread online and there are indications many of them are anti-Chinese," said Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono.
Ethnic Chinese make up just over one percent of Indonesia's 250 million people, who are overwhelmingly Muslim. Typically, Indonesian Chinese do not enter politics, but Purnama has been a close ally of Widodo for decades.
He was the deputy governor of Jakarta when Widodo was governor and took over when Widodo stepped down in 2014 to contest the presidency.
Critics say Widodo's government is doing little to contain the increasingly hostile rhetoric against Purnama from hardline Muslim groups. The mounting religious and ethnic tensions come ahead of next year's election for Jakarta governor in which Purnama has said he will be a candidate.
"This theater of hatred will continue if (Widodo) doesn't tackle it and Indonesia will be a different country with less tolerance and more persecution of minorities," said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.
Muslim groups have accused Purnama of blasphemy after he said his opponents had deceived voters by attacking him using a verse from the Koran. Police are investigating the case against Purnama, who has apologized for the remarks.
Widodo has vowed not to interfere in the legal proceedings against Purnama, according to the Indonesian Clerical Council, a Muslim group.
"The president has said he has instructed (police) to process the investigation and that he will not intervene in this matter," council member Ma'aruf Amin told reporters after meeting Widodo earlier this week.
Police are stepping up patrols and online monitoring in a "show of force" ahead of Friday's rally. About 18,000 police and military personnel will be deployed on the day of the protest.
Armored police trucks and armed troopers stood outside the governor's office at City Hall and outside the presidential palace, where thousands of protesters are expected to march on Friday.
A spiritual leader for the protest organizer, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), insisted its actions on Friday would be peaceful.
"This is not anti-Christian or anti-Chinese action," Habib Riziek said.
The group has had a history of vigilante attacks and raising complaints of blasphemy against religious minorities since it was formed in 1999. It has also frequently protested against Purnama.
Blasphemy cases were rare during former strongman president Suharto's 32-year reign, when there was little tolerance for hardline religious groups.
But cases have spiked in the country's democratic era after Suharto's fall in 1998, raising fears of increased persecution of minorities.
"If Ahok is taken to court, it will be the most high-profile blasphemy case in Indonesia's history because of his status as a government official," rights activist Harsono said.
"It will create a precedent of more hatred against Christians, against Chinese and other targets."
Indonesia recognizes six religions and a vast majority of the population practice a moderate form of Islam. But Indonesian Chinese have faced persecution and violence in the past, especially during the political and social turmoil that gripped the capital when Suharto was toppled.
Hundreds of people were killed during the 1998 violence and thousands of ethnic Chinese fled the country as mobs rampaged through Jakarta, looting and burning Chinese-owned shops and houses.
Communications Minister Rudiantara said the government is working to counter the online "hate speech".
"Indeed, social media is contributing to the current situation," he said. "The president has made it clear Indonesia's unity is non-negotiable."
The race to lead Jakarta, a sprawling city of 10 million, is often hotly contested, with top political parties jostling to get their candidates elected to a job that is seen as a stepping stone to higher political office.
One of Purnama's rivals in the governor's race is the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Purnama, who has gained a reputation as a tough reformer, remains a frontrunner in opinion polls.
Reuters - 5 hours ago
A hardline Muslim protester stands in front of Parliament building as policemen stand guard during a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta ...
Reuters - Nov 3, 2016
An aerial view shows members of hardline Muslim groups attending a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2016. REUTERS/ ...
Reuters UK - 18 hours ago
Muslim hardline protesters cover their faces as police fire tear gas during a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki (Ahok) Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4 ...
Reuters - Nov 2, 2016
Leader of hardline Muslim group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Rizieq Shihab walks to meet the call of the Criminal Investigation Police during an investigation of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 3, 2016 Antara ...
Voice of America - 16 hours ago
Muslim protesters march during a demonstration in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 4, 2016. Tens of thousands of hard-line Muslims converged Friday on the center of the Indonesian capital to demand the arrest of its minority-Christian governor for alleged ...
Wall Street Journal - Nov 4, 2016
JAKARTA, Indonesia—The biggest street protest in years shook this sprawling capital on Friday, in a stark display of the more conservative, militant strain of Islam taking hold in the world's largest Muslim country. Police estimated that 100,000 ...
Asian Correspondent - 7 hours ago
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Hawaii News Now - 6 hours ago
(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara). Muslim protesters chant slogans near burning police trucks during a clash with the police outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. Police in the Indonesian capital clashed with hard-line Mu.
Australians in Indonesia warned to keep away from looming Jakarta protestplanned by hardline Muslim groups
ABC Online - Nov 3, 2016
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Daily Mail - 19 hours ago
One man died and seven were injured in clashes in the capital today following protests by hard-line Muslims demanding the arrest of the city's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - known as Ahok - for alleged blasphemy. Clashes broke out between police and ...
TIME - Nov 4, 2016
Tens of thousands of Muslim protesters rallied in the heart of Indonesia's capital Jakarta to demand the city's Governor Basuki T. Purnama — popularly known by his Chinese nickname Ahok — to be prosecuted for alleged blasphemy. One person died and ...
RT - 18 hours ago
Tens of thousands of hardline Muslim protesters rallying against a non-Muslim governor they accuse of blasphemy marched in Jakarta, where multiple calls for violence and provocations from foreign jihadists resulted in tear gas and scuffles with police.
International Business Times UK - Nov 3, 2016
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BBC News - 19 hours ago
Indonesian police have used tear gas and water cannon to subdue protesters as thousands of hard-line Muslims marched against Jakarta's governor. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, is the first ethnic Chinese to hold the governor's post in the capital ...
The Guardian - Nov 1, 2016
Security forces in the Indonesian capital Jakarta are on high alert in preparation for a Friday rallyby hardline Islamist groups against the city's non-Muslim governor. Thousands of people are due to move into the capital to protest against Basuki ...
Toronto Star - 19 hours ago
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Concord Monitor - 14 hours ago
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BBC News - 5 hours ago
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The Indian Express - 5 hours ago
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New York Times - 14 hours ago
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Tens of thousands of Indonesians marched in Jakarta on Friday, demanding that the city's first Christian governor in decades be jailed for blasphemy. The rallywas a show of strength by conservative Islamic groups, who were ...
The Sydney Morning Herald - 20 hours ago
Jakarta: The streets of Jakarta erupted into violence on Friday night leaving one dead and multiple people injured as police clashed with demonstrators following a rally of about 150,000 people demanding the arrest of the city's Chinese Christian governor.
Southeast Asia Globe - Nov 3, 2016
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Christian Science Monitor - 15 hours ago
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Voice of America - 2 hours ago
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McDowell News - 21 hours ago
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The Straits Times - Nov 3, 2016
JAKARTA - A largely peaceful rally by tens of thousands of Muslims in Jakarta on Friday (Nov 4) to demand the arrest of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy descended into chaos in the evening as hardline Islamists in the crowd ...
Cosumnes Connection (subscription) - Nov 4, 2016
Iriawan said he had met with the rally coordinators, including Rizieq Shihab, leader of the hard-line IslamDefenders Front (FPI). Muslim protesters hold a banner calling for the arrest of Jakarta's ethnic Chinese and Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja ...
NEWS.com.au - 11 hours ago
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Wall Street Journal - 3 hours ago
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Channel NewsAsia - Nov 3, 2016
JAKARTA: Thousands took to the streets of the Indonesian capital on Friday (Nov 4) to rallyagainst Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama over claims that he insulted the Koran. The demonstration, organised by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), is ...