It's official: Government charges Christian governor with blasphemy

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Jakarta's Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed "Ahok," leaves a meeting at the Attorney General's office after acknowledging the charge of blasphemy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on December 1, 2016. | REUTERS/Iqro Rinaldi

JAKARTA (Christian Examiner) – After several weeks of investigation, prosecutors have formally charged the Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, with blasphemy.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known locally as "Ahok," was arraigned on the charge of blasphemy (or insulting Islam) Nov. 30. Ahok reportedly quoted the Quran's prohibition on taking Jews and Christians and friends, and then said Muslims should not use the teachings as a pretext for not voting for him.

No trial date has been set, but what is already clear is that hardline Muslims will not accept anything less than a conviction, which could land the governor in jail for up to five years – an unpleasant prospect in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

The Jakarta Post reported Ahok will remain free as he campaigns for his first full term as governor. The election is in February.

Ahok – who was serving as deputy governor when he was appointed to his current position is 2014, just after the province's governor, Joko Widodo, was elected president – is a close political ally of the president.

However, in a statement Nov. 29, "Jokowi," as the president is called, said he would stay out of the case since it was a legal matter. Ahok, who is ethnically Chinese, is the first Christian governor of Jakarta in 50 years.

"I emphasize here, I will not protect Basuki Tjahaja Purnama because [his case] is being legally processed," the president said after meeting with the leaders of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in Indonesia.

Hardline Muslims, stoked by an increasingly radical ideology, have already gathered to protest Ahok. On Nov. 4, a crowd of 100,000 marched against the governor. Initially the protest was peaceful, but it turned violent as night fell.

Now, another protest is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 2, in National Monument Square. Police are fielding as many as 22,000 officers to guard against violence. That protest is being organized by the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council's Fatwa (GNPF-MUI).

The United States, Australia and Japan have all issued warnings to their citizens living in Jakarta to stay clear of the city's center as the protest is underway.