Thousands of Indonesians from different faiths on Wednesday joined rallies organized across the country by the military as a show of national unity amid tensions over allegations of anti-Muslim blasphemy by the governor of Jakarta.
Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, the chief of Indonesia’s armed forces (TNI) who led efforts to organize the nationwide interfaith rallies dubbed Nusantara Bersatu (United Archipelago), attended the main one held at the National Monument in Jakarta.
“This proves that with only a two-day notice, everyone can stand united. It’s wonderful to see this in Indonesia,” Gatot said.
The principal of “unity in diversity” (“bhineka tungga ika”) – a theme of Wednesday’s rallies that unfolded from Aceh province in Indonesia’s far west to Papua province in its far east – is one of the five founding principles of the archipelago that are known as Pancasila.
The National Monument is the same landmark in the Indonesian capital where tens of thousands of protestors from conservative Muslim groups are expected to demonstrate on Friday against Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese governor and a Christian who is running for election in February.
Police have named Ahok a suspect in an alleged case of blasphemy, and Muslim protestors have called for his arrest. On Wednesday, the Office of the State Prosecutor announced that the police dossier against Ahok met legal requirements for him to face trial.
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.
The rally planned for Friday, known as the Third Act to Defend Islam, follows a protest on Nov. 4 that drew about 100,000 Muslims to Central Jakarta. It started peacefully but turned violent after nightfall when protesters attacked police barricades, set fires and looted stores.
National Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said about 22,000 security personnel would be on duty across the capital to ensure safety during the upcoming rally, Tempo.co reported.
Leaders attend unity event
Joining Gatot in Jakarta on Wednesday were National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa and Wahid Institute founder Yeni Wahid.
“Love of nation and patriotism are parts of faith,” Yeni told the crowd of interfaith leaders, students, artists and rights activists among others.
Acting Jakarta Gov. Soni Sumarsono stressed the importance of people maintaining political stability ahead of the gubernatorial election.
Ahok served as deputy governor to Joko “Jokowi” Widodo prior to Widodo’s election as president in 2014.
Accusations against Ahok reflect efforts by political opponents of the Jokowi administration to take steps that include implementing Sharia law in the world’s most populous Muslim country, analysts said.
Members of the Dayak Pahau tribe perform a traditional dance in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Nov. 30, 2016. [Gunawan/BenarNews]
Cities across the nation held their own versions of Nusantara Bersatu on Wednesday.
In the East Kalimantan provinces, thousands packed Merdeka Pertamina Square in Balikpapan to declare loyalty to the nation.
“Balikpapan people consist of various ethnic groups and will always maintain the integrity of Indonesia,” Mayor Rizal Effendy said.
A community leader, Leo Sukoco, said Balikpapan was home to 30 tribes.
“Each tribe can live together in harmony. Moreover, there is no ethnic majority in Balikpapan,” he said.
In Solo, Central Java, thousands marched in a “Unity in Diversity Parade,” according to the local mayor.
In the city of Klaten, people wearing red-and-white headbands – the colors of Indonesian flag – joined the event that featured a marching band.
In Malang, East Java, religious leaders led an interfaith mass at the military base square.
“Joint prayers show that we live harmoniously united in diversity,” said Mochammad Nur Salim, vice chairman of the Communication Forum for Religions in Malang.
“We do not want Indonesia divided because of the issue of ethnicity, religion, race and class,” he said.
Kusumasari Ayuningtyas in Klaten, Heny Rahayu in Malang, Gunawan in Balikpapan, and Keisyah Aprilia in Palu contributed to this report.