Originally published in Christian Examiner.
Jakarta’s once-popular Christian governor – an anomaly in a predominantly Muslim nation – may be charged with blasphemy for quoting the Quran in what hardline Muslims deemed a “disrespectful” manner.
The charge against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as “Ahok”) comes as the capital province is preparing for February elections. Purnama will face a Muslim opponent, but victory seems unlikely if he is tied up in court or, worse, in prison.
The ethnic-Chinese Purnama was serving as deputy governor when he was appointed to his position in 2014, just after the province’s governor, Joko Widodo, was elected president. He is a close political ally of the president, which may offer him some protection.
Indonesia’s National Chief of Police, Tito Karnavian, who knows Purnama personally, also said there was sharp disagreement about whether or not the governor should face charges.
In spite of his political alliances, Ari Dono Sukmanto, who leads the criminal investigation division in Jakarta, said on Wednesday the case would move forward. Investigators will be questioning Purnama and compiling a dossier to submit to prosecutors who will then decide whether or not the case has merit.
According to the complaint, Purnama reportedly said in a speech in September that the Quran claims Muslims shouldn’t take Christians and Jews as friends. The Quran does, in fact, say as much in 10 separate locations.
It became an insult to Islam, according to local reports, because Purnama also said Muslims shouldn’t be deceived by his political opponents who cite the verse as a reason not to elect him.
“The dominant opinion is that this case should be settled in court,” Sukmanto told reporters.
Boy Rafli Amar, national police spokesman, also told Reuters that the process normally takes two months. He also said that the police chief “has instructed the process be sped up.”
Dropping the case, according to officials, was not an option. The supposed case of blasphemy has already prompted mass protests in Jakarta, capital of the world’s most populous Muslim country. Nearly 100 000 protesters marched earlier in November. They were peaceful at first, but hardliners whipped the crowd into a frenzy and violence broke out at night.
Islamists want to see the country pushed toward a more stringent form of Islam. However, the speech, captured on video and released online, also angered moderates.
Purnama has since apologized for the comment and claimed he did not intend to insult Islam. Still, hardliners want the governor to resign. Purnama is barred from leaving the country until the case is resolved.
“I accept the status of suspect and believe in the professionalism of the police,” Purnama told reporters in a press conference. “This is not just a case about me but about determining the direction this country is going in.”
Although hardline Muslim groups have demanded he resign, Purnama said he will remain a candidate for the office of governor. Polls show him now performing poorly in light of the blasphemy case.
“We are being persecuted,” Ruhut Sitompul, Purnama’s campaign spokesman said. He claimed Purnama’s Chinese ancestry and his religion were both causes of the blasphemy case.