Indonesia: International Travel Warnings Issued Prior to Friday Rally

BenarNews staff
161201-ID-warning-620.jpg Indonesian police block protesters during the November rally in Jakarta against Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, Nov. 4, 2016.

Foreign governments are warning travelers to avoid Jakarta on Friday due to a mass rally by hardline Muslim groups demanding the arrest of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”) for alleged blasphemy.

Organizers expect this rally to be bigger than a similar protest in Jakarta on Nov. 4 that drew about 100,000 people and turned violent after nightfall when protesters attacked police barricades, set fires and looted stores.

Foreign ministries of the United States, Australia and Japan issued warnings for their citizens to use caution in Jakarta from about 8 a.m. until the rally’s end, expected around 1 p.m., the Associated Press reported.

“Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence; and there exists the possibility that some extremist groups could take advantage of the Dec. 2 events to incite or carry out violence,” the U.S. Embassy said on its website on Thursday.

“You should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.”

As many as 22,000 security personnel will be on duty Friday, according to police, who revealed late last month that nine suspected terrorists had participated in the Nov. 4 rally. The men were arrested days later.

“Police have committed to detect the whereabouts of terrorist networks that may try to take advantage of the event,” National Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Dueling rallies

The rally will include mass prayer on the grounds of the iconic National Monument (Monas) in central Jakarta, after organizers gave in to authorities’ request not to worship on two major avenues as previously planned.

Dubbed the “Third Act to Defend Islam,” Friday’s event is being organized by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the National Movement to Protect the MUI Fatwa (GNPF MUI) – the same groups that orchestrated the Nov. 4 rally and a non-violent protest on Oct. 14.

The protests grew from demands that Ahok, the ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta and former right-hand man to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, be charged over his alleged defamation of Islam. Shortly after the Nov. 4 rally, Ahok was named a suspect in the case.

Ahok, who is running for re-election, is accused of blasphemy for telling attendees at an event in September 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.

On Wednesday, the Office of the State Prosecutor announced that the police dossier against Ahok met legal requirements for him to face trial.

Also on Wednesday, thousands of Indonesians joined rallies organized across the country by the military as a show of national unity and support for the notion of pluralism, which is one of Indonesia’s founding principles.


Indonesia’s huge mainstream Muslim organizations – Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – are not participating in the Dec. 2 event.

Muhammadiyah chairman Busyro Muqoddas asked members not to participate in Friday’s rally, saying it had no clear motive.

“It is not in harmony with the Nov. 4 demonstration,” Busyro told BenarNews.

The nation’s top Muslim clerical group, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which is not associated with GNPF MUI, also will not join the rally.

On Nov. 21, National Police Chief 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.

FPI spokesman Munarman said police were overreacting.

Friday’s event is nothing more than a peaceful mass prayer, he told BenarNews.

“There’s no act of treason,” he said.

Earlier, the director of Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) expressed concern that militants could infiltrate such events.

“The government’s mistake is letting the radical groups control the political agenda. Why was there no effort to get them all together and cool down the situation?” Sidney Jones said prior to the Nov. 4 rally.

“A number of parties could take advantage of the rally, including organizations committed to wage war like (the Islamic State) and other groups in Syria,” she said.


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