Demonstrators Converge Around the World to Demand Repeal of Blasphemy Law

From Sydney to San Francisco, thousands of Indonesians living abroad gathered at candlelight vigils over the weekend in a show of support for unity, diversity and justice in the Southeast Asian nation. (Photo courtesy of Juni Francisca Buschler)

By : Sheany | on 1:40 PM May 15, 2017
Category : News, Featured, Human Rights

Jakarta. From Sydney to San Francisco, thousands of Indonesians living abroad gathered at candlelight vigils over the weekend in a show of support for unity and justice in the Southeast Asian nation and to demand the repeal of national blasphemy laws.

"[We want] to show support and solidarity with our people in Indonesia, to show that we are all one. Even though we are far away from our home, our hearts remain in Indonesia," Helen Santoso, a co-organizer of the solidarity march in Columbus, Ohio, told the Jakarta Globe.

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was been battling blasphemy charges since making light-hearted comments against using Koranic verses for political gain in November last year, was found guilty by the North Jakarta District Court on May 9 and sentenced to two years in prison.

In the wake of that controversial court ruling, demonstrators have staged rallies across the archipelago and beyond to march in solidarity with the embattled governor and to call on the government to repeal its existing blasphemy laws.

Helen, a stay-at-home-mother, is just one of many Indonesian nationals across the world who organized grassroots demonstrations to call on their fellow countrymen to uphold the values enshrined in the state ideology, Pancasila, and the 1945 Constitution.

"We are in full support of the Indonesian government under President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, [and we hope] our officials will not hesitate to put a stop to growing radical movements in the country," said Kurnia Hutapea, one of the organizers of Sunday's (14/05) candlelight vigil held in Washington, DC.

Many Indonesians living abroad have formed close-knit expatriate communities as a way to maintain cultural and linguistic ties to their country while trying to assimilate to foreign cultures and ways of life.

"I will always be a proud Indonesian, and while we understand that politics can be ugly, our country is worth loving and fighting for," said Kemal Wahju, project manager of a similarly-led solidarity rally in Vancouver, Canada, over the weekend.

Overwhelming Support

In Sydney, Australia, more than 1,000 people participated in a candlelight vigil on Sunday to show support for the recently imprisoned Jakarta governor. Organizers had initially planned on hosting only 200 demonstrators.

"All of these people came on their own volition [...] I felt very moved that all these people came just to show their solidarity and support," Kristianto, an Indonesian student at the University of South Wales who participated in the Sydney rally, told the Globe.

Vancouver Canada Demonstrators at a candlelight vigil held in Vancouver, Canada, over the weekend show solidarity with recently imprisoned Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama. (Photo courtesy of Sergio Lopez)

Many were inspired to attend Sunday's vigil to show support for Ahok and to combat injustice and growing radical movements in Indonesia.

"We want to tell the world, and of course Indonesia, that we, the Indonesian diaspora, still care very much about our homeland. We want our country to be united, despite the growing polarization and division in our society since Jakarta's gubernatorial election," Kemal said.

Beginning of a Political Movement?

Political rhetoric surrounding recent elections across the archipelago have served to divide segments of society, though many say that recent solidarity rallies are an encouraging means to realize a united and tolerant Indonesia.

Kemal believes the recent vigils are a "strong sign of what the Indonesian people really want to achieve: a just government and an open, inclusive society."

What began as local demonstrations of support for Ahok quickly morphed into a far-reaching political movement, whose adherents demand justice and unity, namely through repealing Indonesia's blasphemy laws.

"It is definitely a starting point for a changing political movement in Indonesia [...] Hopefully, it will make an impact on the government to amend the current archaic blasphemy law," said Pipit Taylor, a co-organizer of the solidarity march in Columbus, Ohio.

Indonesians march in a peaceful rally in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Vicky H) Indonesians march in a peaceful rally in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Vicky H)

But for Indonesian students pursuing degrees abroad, national politics may ultimately influence their decision on whether to return to Indonesia or not.

"My friends are thinking twice about returning, seeing how Indonesian politics are at the moment," said Andreas Harijanto, an Indonesian student at Ohio State University.

He added that while going home may mean sacrificing a more comfortable life abroad, Andreas says he believes in Indonesia's potential and remains firm in his intention to return after finishing his studies.

"I think it’s important to not lose hope, there has to be a change and we’ll just have to wait," Andreas said.

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