Tens of thousands of Muslim hardliners called for Jakarta’s Christian governor to be prosecuted for blasphemy in a massive demonstration in the Indonesian capital on Friday, sparking fears of violence and putting authorities on alert. A sea of protesters wearing white Islamic robes swarmed the city’s largest mosque for Friday prayers before taking to the streets in a huge show of force against governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is accused of insulting Islam.
The protest was triggered by accusations that Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, insulted Islam by criticising opponents who used Koranic references to attack him ahead of an election in February. Purnama apologised for the remarks, but his opponents have built a groundswell of support calling for his arrest and incarceration under Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws.
“It’s no wonder people arise. Why when it comes to Ahok is the law not upheld?” deputy house speaker Fahri Hamzah, a prominent politician from an Islamic political party, told demonstrators today.
Anger at Purnama, Jakarta’s second Christian governor and the first from the country’s ethnic Chinese community, spread beyond the capital, with solidarity marches also held across Java and in cities as far away as Makassar in Indonesia’s east. Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told AFP there were no reports of violence so far, declaring the rally “peaceful”.
But police took no chances in the lead up, deploying 18,000 officers amid fears that radical elements could infiltrate the march.