(World Watch Monitor) Jakarta’s Christian ex-governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as “Ahok”), has withdrawn his appeal against his two-year prison sentence for blasphemy in a controversial case that has challenged religious pluralism in Indonesia, with repeated clashes between Ahok’s supporters and radical Islamic groups.
It was for this reason, said Ahok, that he wished to drop his appeal “for the sake of our people and nation”.
“I know this is not easy for you to accept this reality, let alone me, but I have learned to forgive and accept all this,” he wrote in a letter that his tearful wife Veronica Tan read out at a news conference today (23 May). He also thanked his supporters and those who were praying for him, or sending him flowers, letters and books.
He also encouraged his supporters to forgive and accept the sentence. He showed concern for what could be the longer term results of a drawn out appeal process – for the people in Jakarta and beyond – as the likely protest rallies would cause Jakartans to “suffer great losses, in the form of traffic congestion and economic losses resulting from the rallies”.
He also warned of more division in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, saying: “It’s not right to hold rallies against each other over what I’m experiencing now. I’m concerned that many sides will exploit the rallies. There may be clashes with those who take issue with our struggle.”
According to the Bangkok Post, a source close to the family said that the decision to drop the appeal was made because Ahok’s efforts may be “blocked” further, saying his family had calculated all “political factors” before making the decision. The source refused to elaborate further.
Paul Marshall, Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and senior fellow at the Leimena Institute in Jakarta, told World Watch Monitor that the possibility of an increased sentence on appeal could be one of the reasons why Ahok and his family might have decided not to challenge the sentence in the High Court.
“Another reason could be that the ex-governor is safe where he is now, inside the national police special force’s headquarters. He might not be safe outside. Also, there are major demonstrations in support of Ahok. His release at the moment may shift the momentum to the radicals”, said Marshall.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have still filed an appeal for a lower sentence, since the judges gave a more severe sentence than they’d recommended, and Ahok’s lawyers and family said the withdrawal could therefore give the prosecutors space to appeal.
It would not be the first time prosecutors had appealed against a tougher sentence than sought in the indictment, said one of his lawyers, Teguh Samudera.
“We don’t want to intervene with the prosecution. They can go ahead,” said another of the lawyers, I Wayan Sudirta. He added that Ahok’s legal team had requested his relocation from prison to city or house confinement.
Ahok, Jakarta’s first Christian and ethnic Chinese governor since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy in September 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Qur’anic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta’s governor.
A day after he lost the election to his Muslim rival, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him to a one-year suspended jail sentence, but on 9 May the court ruled against this and sent him to prison for two years. The verdict caused widespread condemnation, from protests in the streets of Jakarta to responses from the international community.
The court case developed in the background of Ahok’s re-election bid as governor of Jakarta and although religion was also the dominant feature of the election campaign, there was much more going on, writes Marshall:
“Ahok was opposed by the many politicians who benefit from endemic corruption. He was also contrarily portrayed as a tool of the rich, especially the Chinese-Indonesian businessmen who control much of Indonesia’s economy. Other major political players were funding the radicals. The FPI [Islamic Defenders’ Front] can make a lot of noise, but does not have the capability to organize massive demonstrations. Someone else was paying for those thousands of busses to bring in demonstrators from afar, as well as the neatly printed signs and shirts.”
At the start of his trial in December 2016, Ahok said: “Our founding fathers created the nation as a secular republic, based on the concept of ‘unity in diversity’, but they want to force the implementation of Islamic law. How come? So, I’m happy that history chose me for this position. I am not afraid of losing my position for doing what is right.” He added: “We must really have faith in God according to our religion. I have faith in Isa [“Jesus” in Arabic]. And I have faith about where I belong and where I will go when I die – and that’s why I’m not afraid to lose my life. In all I’ve been through, Jesus has always protected me and provided for all my needs.”
The news of Ahok’s appeal withdrawal came a day after the United Nations called on the Indonesian government to free him and to repeal blasphemy laws which they say undermine religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation.
“We urge the government to overturn Mr Purnama’s sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately,” UN experts said in a statement.
They added that Ahok’s sentence was “disappointing” as “instead of speaking out against hate speech by the leaders of the protests, the Indonesian authorities appear to have appeased incitement to religious intolerance and discrimination.”
Please pray for our Christian brothers ans sisters in Indonesia.
An Indonesian court has found Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to two years in prison, in a trial that is widely seen as a test of religious tolerance and pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
Following the verdict, the five-judge panel ordered Ahok’s immediate arrest. Ahok has said he will appeal.
A Christian with ethnic Chinese roots, Ahok is a double minority, and the case against him has sparked uproar in Indonesia.
Thousands of police have been deployed in the capital in case clashes break out between Ahok supporters and opponents who have demanded he be sacked and jailed. read more
Pray for Indonesia!
Ahead of Ahok’s trial on Tueday (happening now), police began enforcing maximum security efforts on Monday
– An Indonesian court is expected to decide on Tuesday whether Jakarta’s Christian governor is guilty of blasphemy against Islam, in a trial that is widely seen as a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
The government has been criticized for not doing enough to protect religious minorities but President Joko Widodo, a key ally of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), has urged restraint over the trial and called for all sides to respect the legal process.
Officials said thousands of police will be deployed in the capital in case clashes break out between Purnama’s supporters and hardline Islamists who have demanded he be sacked and jailed over allegations he insulted the Islamic holy book, the Koran.
“Both groups will have the opportunity to demonstrate, but we are taking steps to prevent clashes,” said national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto.
Purnama lost his bid for re-election in an April run-off – by far the most divisive and religiously charged election in recent years – to a Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan. read more
Please pray for this man and Christians in Indonesia.
Supporters sent 10,000 balloons for Ahok ahead of the verdict announcement
Indonesia’s Christian leaders have urged the country’s president, Joko Widodo, to take action against a radical Islamist group.
This comes after a petition called for the disbandment of the group, which is accused of being responsible for a series of violent attacks against Christians.
The Christian leaders said the Islamic Defenders Front posed a “serious threat to national unity”.
The group was responsible for organising a series of mass rallies in Jakarta at the end of last year, in the wake of the blasphemy accusations that still surround Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”), as he campaigns for re-election on 15 Feb.
“[His] case has attracted a lot of national and international attention and is seen as a test of religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation,” says Thomas Muller, analyst at Open Doors, a global charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith.
“Having mobilised more than 200,000 protestors from across the country, radical Islamic groups seem to be gaining ground. Societies are not radicalised all of a sudden; at first a creeping conservatism will be observed, which begins to limit and then suffocate all minorities. This is the case in Indonesia.”
Muller points to the recent evidence that violations of religious freedom are on the rise in Indonesia and a report by the New York Times focusing on how Sharia by-laws are spreading across the country. He says the province of Aceh is “proudly leading the way as a model for other regions in the implementation of such laws”. Some churches destroyed by extremists there in Oct. 2015 have not been allowed to be re-built.
source World Watch Monitor
Indonesia: Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is gaining support from undecided voters, following a debate held last week ahead of a gubernatorial election in Indonesia’s capital next month.
Support for the Christian governor, popularly known as “Ahok” dropped significantly after he was accused of blasphemy in October and went on trial in December.
The trial is expected to last for months, which enables Ahok to stand in the election scheduled to take place on Feb. 15.
According to pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, the Jan. 13 debate has convinced many undecided voters to vote for Ahok as they believe he is the best choice to manage Jakarta and its problems. Voters believe the other candidate Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, eldest son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Anies Baswedan, a former education minister, do not have much to offer.
Yohanes Handoyo Budhisedjati, chairman of Vox Point Indonesia, a Catholic political organization, said the debate has helped people see how good Ahok’s political will is.
“People can see what he has done and I believe he will get more votes, despite the blasphemy accusations,” Budhisedjati told ucanews.com on Jan. 16.
In the debate Ahok vowed to continue successful policies undertaken during his first term that included providing better housing for former slum dwellers and tackling corruption.
Ermelinda Tara from St. James Parish in North Jakarta, said the debate proved Ahok was the better candidate. “I believe Ahok will finish what he has started if he is given the chance,” said Tara who added that her home has been flood free since Ahok took office in November 2014.
“The debate strengthened my decision to vote for Ahok,” said Asamanduru, a member of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia. “The blasphemy case will not affect it,” he said.
A second debate will be held on Jan. 27 and the third on Feb. 10, five days before around 7 million voters go to the polls. (source: UCAN)
Muslim encourages Catholics to vote in Indonesia polls
A prominent Muslim intellectual is urging Indonesian Catholics to put prejudices aside and vote in regional elections next month for leaders who can make society a better place for all citizens, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds.
“We have to vote for a brave leader who can make changes in this capital,” Mohammad Qodari, executive director of Indo Barometer, an independent research and survey institute, told hundreds of Catholics at a gathering at Sacred Heart Church in Central Java, on Jan. 15. At the gathering Qodari, who appeared to back Ahok for his reforms, said that Catholics are not only good citizens but also good nation-builders.
Father Guido Suprapto, executive secretary of Indonesian Bishops’ Commission for the Laity, said the bishops’ conference issued a pastoral letter in November last year, encouraging Catholics to participate in the election and even monitor the entire process. Catholics can change society by voting for leaders who understand religious values, take the side of poor people and who love peace and care for the environment, he said. (Source: VR)
Previously considered secular and tolerant, hardliners and persecution against Christians has increased throughout Indonesia, Please pray for our brothers and sisters in the nation.
(Morning Star News) – The blasphemy trial of Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama began [on Tueday], with the ethnic Chinese Christian breaking into tears inside the courtroom while hundreds of people protested outside.
Some 2,000 police officers kept anti-Ahok and pro-Ahok protestors apart outside the heavily guarded court. Those opposing Ahok chanted, “Jail Ahok, jail Ahok, jail Ahok now.”
A panel of judges will hear from 30 witnesses and see 50 pieces of evidence regarding the charge of defaming the Koran. The trial, which is being televised live, is being rushed through the court and is expected to conclude early in 2017. (more…)
(Voice of the Persecuted) On Tuesday, VOP began receiving reports regarding a Christmas Celebration Revival Service led by Rev. Stephen Tong at a popular event venue in Bandung, West Java. The service was disbanded after members of two Muslim organizations, the Pembela Ahlu Sunnah (PAS) and Dewan Dakwah Islam (DDI) stormed the event.
Bandung Police spokesman, Commissioner, Reny Marthaliana issued a statement which claimed “the event had been rejected by the two Muslim groups who argued that Christian meetings were illegal in a public space and should only take place in church buildings.
West Java police said technical difficulties and an incomplete permit for the event was the reason behind the aggression. But VOP was informed that the Reformed Injili Indonesia Church had obtained legal permission and all permit requirements to hold the services had been fulfilled, including submitting notifications to the government and police.
After mediation failed between church members, protesters and the police, the event organizers agreed to end the Christmas celebration. As they closed the service, the congregation prayed and began to sing ‘Silent Night’. The hymn appeared to agitate the protesters. Bandung’s Police Chief then took control and stopped the event at 8:30 pm on Tuesday, December 6, 2016. In disappointment, the congregation peacefully left the premises.
Naturally, the Christians fear possible further oppression, but said,
“In Christ, they will face any oppression and encourage each other in prayer following Rev. Stephen Tong lead.”
Indonesian Christians were saddened by the news and took to social media to express their solidarity, pray and encourage one another.
►”We are sad, but we pray God will forgive and touch the heart of the very people who stopped tonight service to understand that Jesus has come to save man from the wrath of God. We will remember the message from our Pastor Rev. Stephen Tong : ‘Christmas is not a day to hate, but a day to love.’ Jesus said in John 3:16 (ESV): For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. You only live once, repent from your sin, believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.”
► “This is proof of the failure of the government of the city of Bandung in protecting the citizens of the country to serve the people who also face intolerance. Proof religious worship is getting difficult. Still give thanks to the Lord no matter what.”
►”I mourn the loss of religious freedom in this country, … a country that is (supposed to be) based on tolerance towards different religions, races and ethnicity. As much as I question the authority’s absence, as much as I long for tolerance and mutual respect, I know I must learn to love and forgive. May God help me. Two things I know for sure though: 1. CHRISTmas is about love, NOT hatred. 2. No one could / should stop any massive Christmas service held at Monas in the future.”
Indonesia’s version of Islam is often described as peaceful, tolerant. For the most part, Muslims in Indonesia are moderate. But in recent years, discrimination and persecution against Christians by hardliners as risen.
Concerns of violence from hardliners increased after protests of Jakarta’s first Chinese-Christian governor, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama who has been accused of blasphemy. Next week, he will be brought to trial at a Jakarta court concerning the charge. Many believe the charge is not only religious, but also political. Ahok, who had been favored to win, seeks reelection in February 2017.
Christians expressed to VOP,
►”We are now facing oppression from the Muslim community because of the Christian Governor of Jakarta. “Voices of hatred towards the Chinese and Christian people are now increasing thru my country.”
►”There are more and more hardliners Muslim in Indonesia, including some of my high school friends.
►”I also live among Muslims in my neighborhood. I know some of them also include the hardliners. When we talk about Ahok, they seem a bit angry. They don’t want a Christian as Jakarta’s leader. They will do anything to prevent that.”
► “Rev. Tong asked all of us to not have hate in our hearts but to pray for the hardliners”
Indonesia is constitutionally a secular state with Islam being the dominant religion in the country. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population than any other country in the world. Christians represent seven percent of the population.
The following information was taken from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Indonesia Chapter – 2016 Annual Report
Incidents of discrimination against religious minorities and attacks on religious properties continue to occur in Indonesia, typically isolated incidents localized in certain provinces. Radical groups perpetrate many of these attacks and influence the responses of local government officials when violence occurs. These groups target non-Muslims, such as Christians, and non-Sunni Muslims whose practice of Islam falls outside what the groups deem acceptable. Encouragingly, in 2015, President Joko Widodo, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, and other government officials regularly spoke out against religious-based violence. While such statements are in stark contrast to the previous administration’s open support for radical groups, the longstanding policies and practices that motivate and provide cover for radical groups’ actions against religious communities remain in place and continue to mar Indonesia’s prospects for genuine religious freedom. Based on these concerns, in 2016 USCIRF again places Indonesia on Tier 2, where it has been since 2003.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country: more than 87 percent of the nearly 256 million population identify as Muslim. While the vast majority of Indonesia’s Muslims are Sunni, up to three million are Shi’a and up to 400,000 Ahmadi. Christians represent seven percent of the population, Catholics nearly three percent, and Hindus nearly two percent. However, in some areas of the country, Christians or Hindus comprise the majority. Indonesia recognizes six religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Smaller segments of the population practice unrecognized faiths, such as Sikhs, Jews, Baha’is, and Falun Gong. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his administration have demonstrated a more inclusive approach toward religious communities, which has helped mitigate some religious-based violence. The government is working on a religious protection bill that is expected to address issues such as houses of worship and the treatment of non-recognized religious groups. Those familiar with drafts of the bill, including Indonesia’s independent National Human Rights Commission, Komnas HAM, have raised concerns it includes problematic language from existing policies and regulations. In the meantime, existing discriminatory policies are still in place.
Last year, after the horric attacks on the Christian community in in Aceh Singkil, a letter from Voice of the Persecuted was hand delivered to Indonesia’s President Jokowi regarding the extreme pressure Indonesian Christians are facing, particularly in Aceh province. view here.
- Please pray for Indonesian Christians and for those in power able to bring justice and laws of protection for those abused.
- Pray for the spread of the Gospel as Christianity is growing in the majority Muslim populated country.
- Pray for a safe Christmas in Indonesia.
Churches destroyed a year ago by Islamic extremists and police in Aceh Singkil – a rural ‘regency’ in Indonesia’s only Sharia-ruled province – have still not been rebuilt because of discrimination against Christians by local authorities, say church leaders. However, despite the troubles, church membership is climbing.
Hardliners started destroying Aceh Singkil churches in October 2015 following clashes between Muslims and Christians in another part of the country. Some churches were razed by extremists and others demolished by police following demands from residents that all unlicensed churches be pulled down.
Of 11 churches demolished last year, the members of six continue to meet in tents. The rest have joined other churches, but many live in fear of further violence. “The perpetrators live in the neighbourhood and they always watch my church members’ activities,” said Noldi,* whose church meets in two sites 25km apart – to cater for its growing numbers.
Boru Manik, a local church member, added: “I’m sad that we have to worship in tents in the middle of a palm-oil plantation. But we’re keeping our spirits high.”
The heavy rain in largely tropical Indonesia can be a problem in temporary structures. “[Rain] has happened many times, but we still continue the service. Even if the tents are leaking and rainwater or mud is splashing in from the outside, no-one ever leaves the service!” said a member of the Indonesian Christian Church.
The authorities allow Christians to meet in these temporary structures, but church leaders say they are nevertheless playing politics with plans for new buildings. Churches fear that these authorities are reluctant to grant them planning permission because it would not be popular with Aceh’s largely Muslim voters in the run-up to local elections in February 2017.
Alongside this, all local churches that were not destroyed must become licensed, but the registration process is slow and churches fear it will not be prioritised during election campaigning.
Lamhot*, a Christian activist, told World Watch Monitor that it is already too late to expect building permits to be issued by the authorities now that candidates have started registering for the election. Lamhot’s church was burned down last year and services are now held in tents in the nearby woods. Even this also requires a permit, denied by the government to many hundreds more on security grounds.
Another setback is the formula planners insist is used to estimate the size of a new church. They stipulate that estimates must be based on the number of church members with local identity cards, multiplied by 0.8 metres. Outsiders without local ID cards may not be counted, so new churches are in danger of being granted too small a plot if most of their members are not local.
Berutu, a member of Pakpak Dairi Christian Church in the village of Pertabas, is disappointed by the lack of progress. “The government is afraid of pressures from Muslim clerics and extremists,” she said. “When they gave instructions to knock down our church, they were no longer our protectors.”
Local politicians are putting added pressure on the Church in the lead-up to elections. The regency chief who instigated last year’s demolition of unlicensed churches – a move agreed by Christians following last year’s religious clashes – wants each church to appoint five people to his election campaign team. Christians believe it is a bribe to win him their backing, but understand that other candidates are less tolerant of Christianity. “Vote wisely for your leaders – our fate for the next five years depends on it,” Berutu told her congregation.
Conviction for a Muslim’s murder ‘without reliable evidence’
Progress has been slow on another front too. Natanael ‘Wahed’ Tumangger was convicted of killing a Muslim in last year’s clashes. But the legal process that saw him sentenced to six years in jail was flawed, according to Christians who say he was not accompanied by a lawyer during police interrogation and that no proper evidence was shown during his trial. Later, the Council of Churches in Indonesia sent a team of lawyers to represent him. They said that the prosecutor mentioned a projectile and a gun, but failed to present any reliable evidence at the next hearing. The prosecutor’s statement on the colour of Tumangger’s clothes during the clash was the only ‘proof’ used against him.
Local Christians say Tumangger’s sentence was passed to satisfy the Muslim community.
In jail, news had spread among inmates that a Christian had killed a Muslim, so Tumangger was beaten regularly during his first weeks behind bars. His first few months were spent in a room only 6×4 metres, with 26 other inmates.
“The prison guard didn’t let us out even for a few minutes. Those were miserable times,” he said of his experience. His wife remembered him being as pale as a corpse when he finally got out of that cell.
Tumangger has been transferred to a better room – the same size, but with no more than six people. Prisoners normally ‘rent’ the room for an equivalent of US$300 for the duration of their time behind bars. However, Tumangger is an electrician and the head of the prison ‘employs’ him as payment for the better room.
“There’s nothing to worry about me here. But what about my wife and our four children?” he said. “How are they going to survive in my absence?”
The Indonesian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but by-laws in provinces such as Aceh can prevent these rights from being upheld.
The Open Doors World Watch List 2016 cites Islamic extremism as the main source of persecution in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest population of Muslims. It’s ranked 43 among the 50 countries in which it’s most difficult to live as a Christian. In strictly Islamic regions like Aceh, Muslims converting to Christianity face pressure from family and friends to deny their new faith.
*Names changed for security reasons