Mass Protest Turns Violent in Jakarta

Tia Asmara
161104-ID-riot-4-1000.jpg Police fire tear gas at protesters who charged a barricade outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Nov. 4, 2016.

Updated at 7:10 p.m. ET on 2016-11-04

A peaceful march by some 100,000 people protesting alleged blasphemy by Jakarta’s governor disintegrated into chaos Friday as angry crowds attacked police barricades around the Presidential Palace, set fires and looted stores.

Security personnel fired teargas and used water cannons to hold back surging protesters who hurled objects at officers and set fire to two police trucks, eyewitnesses said.

Separately, in north Jakarta, a mob ransacked a minimarket and a flower shop, and groups of people tried to enter the housing complex where Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama lives.

An elderly man died but his cause of death was not yet known, AFP quoted Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono as saying. Twelve people including eight police were injured, he said.

The violence erupted in the evening, after Islamic groups marched in central Jakarta calling for Ahok to be prosecuted for an allegedly blasphemous remark made in September. Ahok, a Christian member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, is running for re-election in February.

Indonesian authorities were bracing for the possibility of the protest turning violent, and had deployed some 20,000 security personnel to safeguard the streets of central Jakarta.

Just after midnight, speaking from the Presidential Palace, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he regretted that the demonstration had ended in violence.

“As a democracy, we cherish the process of expressing aspirations through a demonstration that was carried out today in a peaceful and orderly way,” he said, thanking Islamic leaders and security personnel who had helped keep the situation under control.

“But we deplore the events after evening prayers when it was time to disband and rioting broke out. And here we see infiltration by political actors exploiting the situation,” he said. He did not elaborate on who those “actors” might be.

Protesters burn tires near the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Nov. 4, 2016. [Yasin Purnomo/BenarNews]

Police to question Ahok

Friday morning, tens of thousands of Muslims from across the country gathered outside the National Mosque in Jakarta to kick off a protest demanding the prosecution of Ahok.

The white-clad demonstrators marched peacefully to the Presidential Palace and listened to speeches urging Jokowi not to intervene in the blasphemy investigation.

“The number of demonstrators was about 100,000 people,” national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said.

Similar demonstrations were staged in other Indonesian cities, including Solo and Malang in Java; Palu, Sulawesi; Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan; and Banda Aceh, Medan and Padang in Sumatra.

Thousands of people protesting an allegedly blasphemous remark by the Jakarta governor march peacefully in central Jakarta, Nov. 4, 2016. [Tia Asmara/BenarNews]

Jokowi said he had sent Vice President Jusuf Kalla, security minister Wiranto, national police chief Tito Karnavian and military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo to meet a delegation of protesters on Friday afternoon.

“In that meeting it was communicated that legal proceedings against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama will be carried out rigorously, quickly and transparently,” he said, flanked by senior security officials.

Ahok is popular among many Jakartans but has long been disliked by conservative Muslim groups in Indonesia. Tensions have soared since an excerpt of remarks he made in September went viral on social media.

Ahok is accused of blasphemy for telling attendees at an event that people might “fool them” into not voting for him using the Quran’s Surah Al-Maida Verse 51, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from having non-Muslim leaders.

The governor apologized for causing a flap and reported to police on Oct. 24 of his own accord to discuss the remarks. Muslim leaders said that while they accepted his apology, his case should still be prosecuted.

Muslims in Jakarta and other cities held rallies on Oct. 14 demanding legal action against Ahok and decrying what they saw as foot-dragging by police and silence from Jokowi on the matter.

Ahok was Jokowi’s deputy when the president was the governor of Jakarta from 2012 to 2014. Ahok assumed the governorship when Jokowi was sworn in as president two years ago.

On Thursday, as thousands of soldiers and police officers deployed around Jakarta to guard against violence around the rally, police announced that Ahok would be summoned for questioning Monday “as a witness” in the case.

Three days of rioting in Jakarta in May 1998 helped bring about the resignation of long-time dictator Suharto later that month. But ethnic Chinese homes and shops were targeted in those riots. Hundreds of people died and dozens of women were raped.

Nosa Normanda and Zahara Tiba contributed to this report.


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