A long march of FPI people during a mass rally against Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama in this file photo. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Hardliners Assertiveness Draws Criticism as Ahok's Blasphemy Trial Nears


DECEMBER 10, 2016

Jakarta. Protests against the blasphemy case launched by Muslim hardliners against Jakarta's Christian governor are mounting ahead of his first trial, with observers calling him a "victim of criminalization."

Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is set to be tried on Tuesday (13/12), just weeks after being named a blasphemy suspect in a police probe launched in the face of mass pressure from hardliners.

The case has sparked concerns over rising religious and ethnic tensions ahead of February's much-contested Jakarta gubernatorial race, in which Basuki is seeking re-election.

According to Sulistyowati Irianto, a professor at the University of Indonesia, the blasphemy allegation is nothing more than a "politicization of identity" against the governor.

"The sharpening of differences to seek certain political interests is apparent in the case. This will be dangerous for the future of our national life," she told the press in Jakarta on Saturday (10/12).

Basuki had referred to a Koranic verse in his re-election campaign remarks in September, prompting the Indonesian Ulema Council to issue a statement the next month saying he insulted Islam.

However, this was dismissed by Neng Darra Affiah, leader of a Banten-based Islamic boarding school.

"There's no blasphemy in the case. There's no single motivation, intention, or even statement to insult certain religion," she said.

Basuki has repeatedly apologized to Muslims for his remarks, but the statement already fired up religious sentiment across the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Hardliners staged three rounds of mass Muslim demonstrations in the capital within the past two months, with protesters demanding that Basuki step down.

"What does exist in the case is politicization, efforts to hamper his gubernatorial candidacy. Even if the case hasn't occured, other ways will surely be sought against him," Neng said.

Tuesday's much-anticipated trial is expected to draw further protests by Muslim hardliners, with police set to heighten security at areas surrounding the court and vital areas in the capital.