President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said Tuesday he would not shield Jakarta’s governor from a police probe into alleged blasphemy, which led to a massive protest in the Indonesian capital that ended in violence last week.
Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority who served as Jokowi’s deputy when Jokowi was governor of the capital, was interrogated by police for nine hours on Monday over alleged anti-Muslim comments made in September. Under Indonesia’s laws, people can be prosecuted for blasphemous speech.
“I emphasize here - and [want] all people to know- that I will not protect Basuki Tjahaja Purnama because [his case] is being legally processed,” Jokowi told a news conference in Jakarta following a meeting with leaders of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization.
Monday’s interrogation of Ahok was the second time since Oct. 24 that he was questioned over the allegations of blasphemy, but the latest interrogation came three days after some 100,000 Muslim protestors marched in central Jakarta on Friday as they called for the governor to be prosecuted for speech perceived as offensive to Islam.
The rally was largely peaceful but it ended in violence as angry people attacked police barricades, started fires and looted stores in central Jakarta, while police and security personnel fired tear gas and water cannons to control the crowd.
In the mayhem one person was killed and more than 100 were injured, including 79 police and military personnel, national police said Monday.
An elderly man who had asthma died during the protest, Jakarta police spokesman Setiyono Awi said.
“Eleven policemen are still hospitalized,” he said.
As of Tuesday, authorities had arrested at least five members of the Muslim Students’ Association – including the group’s secretary general – on suspicion of assaulting police officers during Friday night’s riot, Setiyono said.
‘We would conduct the legal process’
Ahok, who is running for re-election in February, is accused of blasphemous speech for telling attendees at an event in September 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.
The governor has since apologized for the flap, but he declined to answer reporters’ questions as he left police headquarters on Monday.
The violence led to Jokowi cancelling a trip to Australia planned for this week.
In the hours that followed the violent end to the street demonstration, Jokowi appeared on national television to deplore the turn of events and accuse “political actors” of infiltrating the march to foment unrest. He added then that those responsible for sparking the riot would be prosecuted and that police would not hesitate to enforce the law.
National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said Tuesday that officers were still gathering evidence about those responsible for the riot and were considering treason charges against them.
“If this fits under article of treason, yes, we would conduct the legal process,” Tito said.
Upcoming Ahok hearing
Meanwhile, authorities were moving to schedule a court hearing for Ahok sometime next week, and planned to open it to the public, an official said.
“Regarding the development of [Ahok’s] legal status, please just wait for his case hearing next week,” said Senior Commander Rikwanto, a police spokesman, without specifying a date.
Plans to open the hearing, however, are being challenged by one of the rally organizers, the conservative Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
FPI spokesman Munarman suggested this was a ploy to influence public opinion in Ahok’s favor, tribunnews.com reported.
“I have information that police would bring around 80 percent of witnesses who would state that Ahok is innocent. If the hearing is still held open, this is only to fool the public,” he said.
Police spokesman Rikwanto dismissed that comment.
“This is to make everything clear. Let the public see it, but the conclusion remains in the hands of the investigators,” he said.