Indonesian Islamists riot over Governor’s alleged blasphemy
Indonesian police used tear gas and water cannon at the weekend to quell a violent protest staged by thousands of hard-line Muslims.
Demonstrators accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese to hold the post of Governor of Jakarta –
of having insulted the Koran, and want him to be prosecuted.
According to the BBC, clashes broke out between police and protesters who refused to disperse.
One elderly man died and several other people, including police officers, were injured.
Police had been braced for the possibility of religious and racial tensions erupting at the rally, which an estimated 50,000 people attended.
It had mostly been peaceful but groups of angry demonstrators clashed with police after nightfall and set vehicles alight.
The protest was held to demand that Purnama, above, be prosecuted for blasphemy over comments he made in September that were seen as criticising a Koranic verse.
He said that Islamic groups, using a passage of the Koran to urge people not to support him, were deceiving voters, who will go to the polls in February.
The verse is interpreted by some as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim.
Purnama has since apologised but formal complaints of “defamation” were lodged against him by Islamic groups. He is now being investigated by police. Representatives met with Vice-President Yusuf Kalla, who promised that the investigation into Purnama would be completed within two weeks.
Some protesters at Friday’s rally carried signs calling for the governor’s death.
There have long been tensions around Purnama political role.
In 2014, he was deputy Governor under Joko Widodo. When Widodo was elected President the main group behind the current protest – Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – did not want Purnama to succeed him.
They argued that a Christian should not govern a Muslim-majority city. The campaign against him has since taken on anti-Chinese overtones, though the FPI said the rally was not about the governor being from a minority group.
Jakarta police said there were “provocative statements and images” on social media urging people to take violent action against Purnama, including calls to kill him.
Despite being seen as brash and outspoken, the governor is popular among many in the capital and has been praised for his effectiveness.
Muslims in Indonesia are largely moderate and the country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, had advised its 40 million members not to take part in the protest.