Indonesian mosques declared out of bounds to candidates

Administrators launch crackdown on attempts to use places of worship as a tool for electioneering
Indonesian mosques declared out of bounds to candidates

In this 2016 file photo, thousands of Muslims attend a political protest after Friday prayers at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta to demand the jailing of former city governor, Basuki Tjahja Purnama for blasphemy. The Indonesia Mosque Council has ordered candidates not to use mosques for political campaigning ahead of April 17 legislative and presidential elections. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

Indonesian mosque administrators have launched a crackdown on politicians trying to use the places of worship to serve their own ends during campaigning for next month’s legislative and presidential elections.

Some mosques were being used for political activities, which is against the law, they said.

Violators face a maximum of 2 years in prison and/or a fine of 24 million rupiah (US$1,700).

Remaja Masjid — the youth arm of the Indonesia Mosque Council — in partnership with the Election Supervisory Board launched their “Stop Campaigning in Mosques” drive on March 24, when the presidential candidates began staging large-scale rallies ahead of the polls.

Mosque managers, or any individual, are encouraged to report any violations committed by politicians or political parties at the 729,000 mosques throughout the country.

"Mosques must be guarded so they are not contaminated by irresponsible people," said Haris Zainuddi, general secretary of Remaja Masjid.

Those reporting violations can do so online and should include a video or photos to support their claims.

“We will forward the reports to the Election Supervisory Board," Zainuddi said.

Sermons during Friday prayers will be monitored prayers to ensure they are not used for electioneering.

Dirty tricks, such as vote buying, spreading fake news, slander, or baseless accusations, as well as insulting individuals, religions, ethnicities, and races are also to be reported.

“Mosques have often been used, wrongly, as hives of political activity," Zainuddi said.

In January, newssheets were circulated in mosques in Java containing fake news against President Joko Widodo.

Earlier this month, hard-line Muslim groups vowed to use mosques to rally support for Widodo’s rival Prabowo Subianto.

They also said they would hold mass gatherings at mosques before heading to polling stations on April 17.

Similar events took place during the Jakarta governor election in 2017. Muslims gathered at mosques to listen to political speeches before proceeding to polling stations, which led to the defeat of Christian candidate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, according to analysts.

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Despite the blasphemy allegation against him Purnama had been tipped to win the poll.

"They [hardliners] want to duplicate this success during this year’s election," said Wempy Hadir, executive director of pollster Indopollling Network.

According to Rahmat Bagja, a member of the Election Supervisory Board, the only legal political activity in a place of worship is an “invitation for followers to participate in elections.”

“If it is a call to elect certain people, then that is a clear violation.” he said.

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