Jakarta’s Christian Governor, Basuki Cahaya Purnama, known as Ahok, was officially charged with blasphemy on Nov. 16 and will soon stand trial. The governor had earlier sparked an outrage among Islamists for “desecrating” the Quran in a public forum when he stated that many had been influenced to object to his leadership using a certain verse in the Islamic holy book. Despite his public apology, approximately 100,000 Muslim radicals from across Indonesia took to the streets on Nov. 4 demanding that Ahok be prosecuted for blasphemy. The initially peaceful rally turned violent that evening. One person died, a few police officers were injured, and two motorcycles were burned. President Joko Widodo expressed his displeasure regarding the unruly protest, saying, “I deeply regret the chaos later in the evening. Political actors are taking advantage of the situation.”
Ahok’s case is indeed a classic example of how religion is frequently used for political gains in Indonesia. In February 2017, local elections will be held throughout the country with cities and provinces choosing their mayors and governors. Ahok is running for his second term, and two other pairs of candidates are eyeing the same spot, one of them being the former president’s son. Governor Ahok is known for successfully reforming the capital city, but with his political opponents on the rise, religious sentiments are being stirred up to derail his campaign and damage his rising popularity.
Indonesia, which ranks #43 on the 2016 World Watch List, hosts the world’s largest Muslim population. While the majority practice moderate Islam, fundamentalist teachings have been spreading throughout the country, making Christians and other religious minority groups more vulnerable to false accusations and to injustice in law enforcement.
“In a recently circulated video clip, a hardline group leader was caught making the same remark as Ahok’s about the Quran. Quite predictably, it wasn’t deemed as blasphemy,” observed an Open Doors’ field researcher. “While persecution of Christians in Indonesia is nothing new, it’s perhaps the first time that it is blatantly being hurled at a high-ranking public official at a national level. This will not happen without repercussions in the grassroots.
Father, we thank You for the diligent work of Ahok as Governor in Jakarta. We pray Your protection over him now in these difficult times. Sustain his faith and courage as You comfort him with Your Word and the presence of Your Holy Spirit. Comfort his wife and two children as well in these uncertain times that they may experience Your inner peace and draw close to you. We pray for Your true justice to prevail in the trials before him. Where there are evil motives, we pray that You will vindicate him. And we pray, Father, for a restoration of peace in the widening rift between Christians and Muslims. Strengthen and encourage the believers to continue loving their neighbors as effective witnesses to Christ, holding firmly to the truth even while being peace builders in their communities among those of diverse religious beliefs. In the name of Jesus, who brought peace between God and man that we might be His instruments of truth and grace. Amen.