Commentary: Detain Ahok After He Is Proven Guilty, Not Because Protesters Are Baying for His Blood


DECEMBER 01, 2016

According to Indonesia's Criminal Code, Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a suspect in a blasphemy investigation, cannot be detained no matter how much intense pressure is exerted by millions of angry Muslims.

Ahok can only be detained once he is proven guilty in court of insulting Islam.

Ahok is being accused of violating Articles 156 and 156A on blasphemy in the Criminal Code. Violating Article 156 can incur a four-year jail term and violating Article 156A a five-year jail term.

But violation of either or both articles does not warrant pre- or mid-trial detention because according to Article 21 of the code, a suspect can only be detained if his offense is punishable by a jail term of more than five years.

Consequently, neither police nor the Attorney General’s Office can dump Ahok in a detention facility unless he is later on proven irrevocably guilty — in other words, after the District and High Courts as well as the Supreme Court reject his (possible) appeals.

These fine points of legal procedures are all Greek to the millions of protesters now demanding Ahok’s detention. They just want him to be dumped in jail whether or not the procedures are sufficiently complied with.

This is why is it necessary to remind the public that should Ahok be put in jail, it must be the result of a due process of the law and not the result of emotional pressure from the public. The latter would constitute a veritable legal tragedy.

The biggest headache gripping the government of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo today is how to explain to Muslim leaders and the protesting millions demanding Ahok’s detention that even defending Islam from blasphemy should be done in accordance to the law.

One cannot attempt to uphold the law by breaking it. One cannot defend religion by breaking the Criminal Code. The only way to extinguish the burning coals of Muslim anger is to prove Ahok irrevocably guilty — in court.

The Jokowi administration should see this blasphemy investigation as a rare opportunity to educate people about respect for the rule of law instead of allowing them to be misled by their own lack of understanding on how the legal system works.

The government has been practically held hostage because of their own inability to draw a clear line between radicalism and pure aspiration for justice to be done.

Because of their own fault, the government now probably feels that radical Muslims and moderate Muslims have ganged up against them into one force of pressure.

The biggest dilemma in Indonesia is trying to find ways to stop radical forces in the Muslim community from poisoning the minds of people while hiding behind religious symbolism.

Terrorists, including the Islamic State, have been manipulating religious doctrines to launch attacks across the globe and many of them are turning demonstrations inside Indonesia — some actually organized by moderate Muslims — to their own advantage.

Detaining Ahok would be a victory for radical Muslims, and a total loss to law enforcers, for three reasons:

1. Issuing a legal verdict based on public pressure will leave the impression that the government has failed to uphold the rule of law. This will leave a bad precedent for future efforts to uphold legal supremacy. Public pressure will henceforth be used as a tactic to undermine the rule of law and dictate the government.

2. If you look at the context of Ahok's speech at Pramuka Island, the supposedly offending remarks were not actually blasphemous as he was neither criticizing Islam nor its holy book the Koran, but was cautioning his audience that some people had been misquoting Koranic verses to convince people to avoid voting for him.

Ahok's accusers do not just want him jailed for blasphemy, they also want to stop him from winning the Jakarta gubernatorial election in February 2017.

Sadly, this means democracy in Indonesia could soon become a "government of the people" and "by the people," but not for the people.

It will instead serve the purposes of political puppet masters pulling the strings to advance their own groups’ interests.

The political elites are now teaching the public a bad lesson: that no matter how well you have performed as a public servant, all your effort will go to waste if politicians hate you.

Portraying Ahok as an enemy of Islam is simply a cynical display of hypocrisy.

3. Facts show this Christian-Chinese governor has paid a lot more attention to Jakarta’s Muslims than many of his predecessors ever did.

In fact, since his school years Ahok has had a Muslim foster family to which he is still very closely attached. It is almost impossible that he would go out of his way to offend the family’s religion.

Disliking Ahok because of his religious and ethnic backgrounds is, let's not mince words here, the byproduct of a racist world view. It also goes against the state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

Apparently the government has been making the wrong move. Instead of educating the public to respect the rule of law and Pancasila, it has chosen to bow to public pressure.

The plain fact is not even Islamic leaders can bring themselves to unequivocally say that Ahok has intentionally defamed Islam. Even police investigators have dissenting opinions over Ahok’s status as a suspect.

Ahok was named a suspect based on a fractured, dark version of the truth instead of an objective, undebatable version of it.

Judges will soon try him based on a dossier that contains nothing but elements of this "dark truth."

The (bad) lesson the public will learn and hold on to from this whole episode would be that assumptions are the truth when the majority desires it to be so.

If justice means bowing to public pressure, all sorts of manipulation will be needed to make it appear as though there are justifiable legal reasons for sending Ahok to jail.

But as the election law does not allow candidates to withdraw from a governor race, Ahok will still have a chance to contest next year's election despite his badly damaged reputation.

For the sake of national stability, some claim, the government may soon succumb to pressure to detain Ahok to placate the hordes of militant Muslims baying for his blood.

Or it might simply be trying to avoid the bigger headache of having to explain the rule of law to the deaf ears of emotional protesters.

Pitan Daslani is a senior political analyst and former journalist at the Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe, Radio Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands and Yomiuri Shimbun. He can be reached at