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Moderate Muslim leaders back Christian Jakarta governor

Charges against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy were fabricated for political purposes, they say
Moderate Muslim leaders back Christian Jakarta governor

An Indonesian policeman fires a tear gas canister to disperse Muslim protesters near the presidential palace during clashes after a rally against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian accused of insulting Islam, in Jakarta on Nov. 4. (Photo by AFP)

Published: November 08, 2016 11:31 AM GMT
Updated: November 08, 2016 11:37 AM GMT

Some moderate Muslim leaders have defended Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama from blasphemy allegations, saying that charges against the Christian governor were fabricated for political purposes.

The Christian governor of Chinese descent, popularly known as Ahok, is scheduled to compete for a second term during an election in February next year.

His main opponents are Anis Baswedan, former education minister, and Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, son of former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The election campaign began at the end of October.

President Joko Widodo said riots at the end of the mass protest of thousands of Muslims on Nov. 4 demanding the police arrest Ahok for insulting Islam was exploited by political rivals.

Media reported that one person died and at least 100 others were injured. Several vehicles were torched and damaged.

This was the second mass protest targeting Ahok after some 10,000 hard-liners rallied in the city on Oct. 14. 

Fundamentalists claim Ahok insulted Islam during a campaign speech on Sept. 27 and demanded he be given the death penalty.

Syafi'i Ma'arif, former chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic group in Indonesia, said he has watched the entire video of Ahok delivering his speech at the Thousand Islands district of Jakarta in September and that nowhere in the video indicates Ahok insulted Islam.

"I have written several articles about it that there is no blasphemy," he told ucanews.com Nov. 8.

He said people were provoked by a fatwa from the Indonesia Ulema Council that declared Ahok has insulted the Quran and Muslim clerics.

According to the council, Ahok cited a verse from the Quran that forbids Muslims to make Jews and Christians leaders. They said Ahok insulted the holy text when he asked voters not to let this verse deter them from choosing a non-Muslim leader in the regional elections scheduled for next Feb. 15.

Ma'arif also supported a police investigation into the allegation and hoped that all Indonesians, particularly Muslims, accept its finding.

Hendardi, executive director of Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the blasphemy allegation against Ahok has also been used by jihadists who lost in Poso and Ambon, where a Muslim-Christian conflict broke out in 1999-2000, killing thousands of people. But peace was restored and the area has since been free from religion-based conflicts.

In a statement sent to ucanews.com, Hendardi said actors in the conflict in Poso continue to find cause to stir chaos, such as by deploying blasphemy cases, anti-Christian sentiments and solidarity with the Middle East, as a way to further their campaign.

"It is not only about elections or blasphemy but about creating a conducive space for radicalization of the public to go against the laws and the unity of Indonesia," he said in the statement.

On Nov. 8 Ahok was questioned by the National Police Criminal Investigation Unit. According to media reports, almost 100 lawyers have offered their support to defend Ahok.

National police policy analyst Rikwanto said the focus of the police's investigation was the video of Ahok's speech in September where he quoted the Quran.

The original video was later edited by Buni Yani, a university lecturer and uploaded onto social media. Yani has also been questioned. The edited version of Ahok's speech allegedly angered Muslims that triggered the mass protest on Nov. 4.

Rikwanto admitted that some important words were omitted, which also changes its meaning. "The video was edited, cut, from its original version," he said in a televised conference.

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