Supporters of Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama gather in front of Cipinang Prison in East Jakarta on Tuesday evening (09/05) to protest against the Jakarta governor's imprisonment. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Grief, Courage as Thousands Light Candles for 'Martyr of Democracy'


MAY 11, 2017

Jakarta. Tears streamed down the face of Nana Riwayatie as she spoke about the fate of her adoptive brother, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, in front of a crowd of his supporters on Wednesday (10/05).

Just a day earlier, the court sentenced the embattled Jakarta governor to two years in prison for blasphemy, which his sister and many others believe he had no intention of doing.

"I'm still shocked by what they've done to him. There seems to be no place for Ahok in this country," Nana said, being unable to hold back her tears.

But just minutes later, she calmed down as she looked at thousands of candles lit and held by black-clad sympathizers sitting down in the Proclamation Monument compound in a vigil for her brother.

"Ahok is fine behind bars, I've just met him today. He told me to send you all a message, 'although his body is inside prison, his soul and spirit are here'," Nana said to an encouraging crowd.

The vigil was the latest in a series of shows of solidarity with Ahok, who faced immediate detention following Tuesday's verdict.

Thousands of his supporters earlier also gathered at City Hall and in front of Cipinang Prison in East Jakarta and at the headquarters of the National Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) in Depok, West Java, where he is currently detained.

"Release Ahok; release Ahok right now!" thousands of his supporters chanted many times throughout Wednesday's gathering as they raised their fists in the air.

Dozens of human rights activists and Muslim scholars joined the vigil, which organizers said was held to mourn "the death of justice."

"We spontaneously gather here to embolden each other," said Nong Darol Mahmada, a women's rights activist and organizer of the vigil.

Those present at the gathering also voiced concern over the fate of religious and ethnic diversity in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Ahok's blasphemy trial proceeded amid mounting pressure from hardline Muslims, leading to a verdict seen as a setback for religious and ethnic tolerance in Indonesia.

"Indonesia has been known as a country of tolerance and pluralism. But today, we've taken a step backward. Out struggle still has a long way to go," Nong said.

The blasphemy case against Ahok also mounted religious and ethnic sentiments that overshadowed the tough reformer's bid for re-election in February.

Human rights activist Taufik Basari described Ahok in Wednesday's oration as "a martyr of democracy and tolerance."

"That will be noted in this country's history," he said.