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Indonesia: Police Question Jakarta Governor in Blasphemy Case

Arie Firdaus
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Protesters carry posters demanding the arrest of Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, Nov. 4, 2016.
Protesters carry posters demanding the arrest of Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, Nov. 4, 2016.
Tia Asmara/BenarNews

Police questioned Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for nine hours on Tuesday during his first interrogation since being named a blasphemy suspect, while Indonesia’s president said his government was determined to stop radicalism in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Ahok, who is running for re-election in February, was formally named a suspect last week for alleged anti-Muslim comments he made in September, which led to mass protests demanding his prosecution.

An anti-Ahok protest drew some 100,000 demonstrators to central Jakarta on Nov. 4, but it disintegrated into violence at the end, as an angry crowd attacked police barricades, set fires and looted stores.

The violence was the worst in Jakarta since riots in 1998, during which Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority was targeted. Ahok, a Christian, is Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese governor. He is the former deputy of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and succeeded him as governor, when Jokowi became president two years ago.

The police’s decision to name Ahok a blasphemy suspect, however, has not diminished calls by conservative Muslim groups demanding his arrest. Some of these are calling for another mass protest against the governor that is expected to take place in Jakarta on Dec. 2

Ahok is accused of blasphemous speech – a violation of Indonesian law – for telling attendees at a campaign event that people might “fool them” into not voting for him by using the Quran’s Surah Al-Maida Verse 51 – which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from having non-Muslim leaders.

On Tuesday, Ahok lawyer Sirra Prayuna said investigators asked 27 questions, many of which were similar to those asked before his client was named a suspect.

“This is actually only to get more detailed information from the previous investigation to make the case more clear,” he said.

If prosecuted and convicted, Ahok would face up to five years and six years in prison, respectively, for violating Indonesia’s blasphemy and electronic communications laws. A video of Ahok’s controversial comments, for which he has apologized, went viral on social media.

Speaking to reporters at National Police Headquarters in Jakarta, spokesman Senior Commander Rikwanto on Tuesday urged all parties to respect the investigation into the Ahok case.

“We already agreed to no intervention from any party. Please trust the police that this case will go to court. So, please no more requests for police to do this or that,” Rikwanto said.

No room for radicalism

Meanwhile, Jokowi called for maintaining national unity and countering radical ideology from growing in multi-religious and multi-ethnic Indonesia.

“What is very important is that government is determined, I repeat, the government is determined with all of its power to prevent the growth of radicalism in our country, Indonesia,” Jokowi told reporters at the Jakarta State Palace, after two days of meetings with political leaders.

Jokowi has reached out to Muslim religious leaders, top military and police in an effort to calm the nation following the Nov. 4 rally attended by 100,000 people in Jakarta that started peacefully but turned violent in the evening.

His comments followed a weekend rally in which thousands of people marched in the streets of Jakarta, in a counter-protest to the anti-Ahok rallies. Demonstrators called for upholding the nation’s diversity and unity that are among its core values.

Another anti-Ahok rally planned

Elsewhere, two conservative groups, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the National Movement to Protect the MUI Fatwa (GNPF MUI), announced plans for another rally on Dec. 2 to demand Ahok’s arrest. Both groups organized the Nov. 4 rally and a non-violent rally on Oct. 14.

“Since Ahok has not been arrested, the GNPF MUI will stage Aksi Bela Islam III (The Third Act to Defend Islam) on Dec. 2,” FPI spokesman Munarman said, according to Antara, Indonesia’s national news agency. The organization had planned a rally on Friday as well, although police officials are unsure if it will be held, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Organizers expect the Dec. 2 rally featuring a massive group Friday prayer in Jakarta’s two main streets to be twice as large as the Nov. 4 rally.

National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian questioned the motives of holding another rally because, he said, police had proceeded appropriately in the Ahok case. Tito referred to the proposed rally as potential treason.

“There have been hidden attempts by some groups who want to get into the House of Representatives and attempt to control the Parliament. For us, the police and military, this is a clear violation of law,” CNN Indonesia quoted him as saying earlier this week.

Munarman of the FPI said police overreacted.

“There are those who want to disturb the demonstration,” Munarman told BenarNews, calling the planned rally nothing more than a peaceful demonstration filled with prayer.

“There is no act of treason,” he said.

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