(World Watch Monitor) Jakarta’s former governor, known as “Ahok”, who was sentenced last year to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam, is to be released from prison next month, four months ahead of schedule.
The ethnic Chinese Christian, whose real name is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was due to be released in May but has been granted early release, scheduled for 24 January, for good behaviour, according to Sri Puguh Budi Utami, Director General for Prison Affairs, as reported by AsiaNews.
Ahok had refused parole in July as he hoped for early release after serving almost two-thirds of his sentence.
Ahok, the first Christian and ethnic Chinese to govern Indonesia’s capital since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy in December 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to dissuade Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta governor.
In April last year, one day after he lost the election to his Muslim contender, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him and recommended he serve no prison time if found guilty. They suggested two years’ probation with a possible one-year jail term if he committed a crime during that period. The judge, however, decided a harsher punishment was called for, telling the court: “Mr. Purnama was found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment.”
His sentence received widespread condemnation globally as politicians, academics and rights groups expressed their concerns about the growing threat to religious pluralism in Indonesia.
During the trial, Ahok’s supporters clashed repeatedly with extremist Islamist groups and it was for this reason that the former governor initially decided not to appeal his sentence – “for the sake of our people and nation”.
Politics and fake news
However in February Ahok filed an appealafter a court found a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, guilty of hate speech for editing the viral video that formed the basis for the allegations against Ahok. But the Supreme Court rejected Ahok’s appeal.
Before Ahok’s trial, in November 2016, Catholic news agency UCAN reported that according to Syafi’i Ma’arif, the former chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic group in Indonesia, there was “no blasphemy” in Yani’s video, and the charges against the Christian governor had been fabricated for political purposes.
During his trial, Ahok told the court he had been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005.
In March it was reported that Ahok may also have been a victim of a sophisticated anti-government campaign of “fake news” and malicious bots. An online jihadist network known as the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) posted “inflammatory content and messages designed to amplify social and religious division, and push a hardline Islamist and anti-government line”, authorities said.
An Indonesian musician is currently facing a two-year prison sentence for allegedly committing hate speech against Ahok during his bid for re-election in 2017, as World Watch Monitor reported.
Earlier this year, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission announced plans to publish guidelines to avoid sectarian clashes in the run-up to next year’s national elections as some hard-line Islamic leaders had called on Indonesians to vote only for Muslim candidates.
Three churches were closed in an Indonesian village last week amidst rumors Muslims were planning to protest against the churches’ presence because they did not have the required permits.
But a pastor from one of the affected churches in West Kenali village, Alam Barajo district, in Sumatra’s central Jambi province, told World Watch Monitor: “We had been worshipping here since 2004 and fulfilled all building license requirements. We have even built a good relationship with the local authorities. Yet the permit was not granted.”
“The rapid church growth in the area during the last decade may have caused restlessness among the majority-Muslim neighbourhood,” said the pastor, who leads an Assemblies God church.
“The rapid church growth in the area during the last decade may have caused restlessness among the majority-Muslim neighbourhood.”
The other two affected churches belong to the Huria Kristen Indonesia (HKI) and Gereja Methodist Indonesia (GMI) branches.
A local source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the churches were closed to prevent unrest ahead of a planned protest by supporters of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
“The village head filed a complaint with the higher authorities and rallied the support of radical group Islamic Defenders Front to hold protests against the churches,” the source said. “The day before the church closures, a letter had been circulated saying that a thousand Muslim residents would rally in front of the three churches on Friday, September 28. The government decided to seal the churches to prevent the commotion.”
The Indonesian Evangelical Fellowship (PGLII) and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) released a statement, urging the government to uphold religious freedom, protect minorities and not give in to mass pressure.
PGI also sent a legal team to support the churches, reported VOA. “The local government keeps delaying the process to have the permit, or just reject it without any reasons,” PGI General Secretary Gomar Gultom said.
Jambi District Spokesman Abu Bakar told VOA the church closures were just a “temporary action” due to “administrative issues”.
Bakar also denied that there had been pressure from the FPI to close the churches and said that if they submitted the required documents, they would receive permits within a week.
Paul Marshall, Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University, warned recently that Indonesia was likely see an increase in the “politicisation of religion” ahead of the 2019 elections.
“Much of this manipulation is done by people who are not especially religious,” he said at the Fourth Annual Southeast Asia Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Bangkok, in August.
He added: “What is most likely to lead to conflict is not robust, believing religion, but rather shallow religion that is used as a political identifier. The problem is usually not strong religion, but weak religion that is a strong source of identity.”
More than 1,000 churches have been closed or prevented from being built in Indonesia since a “religious harmony” law was passed in 2006, ordering minority religious groups to obtain the permission of the local majority group before building houses of worship, according to Human Rights Watch.
In Cilegon, a city in Banten, Java’s westernmost province, 21 churches registered under Cilegon’s Inter Church Cooperation Body (BKSAG) had all either been closed or were facing that threat, its President, Steven Polii, told World Watch Monitor in September last year. An historic agreement between local Islamic leaders and the government dictated that no churches are allowed in Cilegon, in order to preserve its Muslim identity, he said.
VOP Note: Indonesian Christians have contacted Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) asking that our Prayer Team pray for them. Please join us in lifting them up to the Lord.
SUMMARY: Tens of thousands of tropical coastline miles hem in the world’s largest archipelagic state of Indonesia. With over 17,000 islands separating the Indian Ocean from the Pacific, Indonesia and its people are as numerous as the islands themselves, and it stands as the fourth most populous country in the world. Unity proves to be a constant challenge as over 722 languages are spoken and people are scattered across 6,000 islands varying in composition from rural fishing villages to highly metropolitan mega cities. The 2004 undersea earthquake and tsunami, which left over 220,000 either dead or missing and displaced millions more, established a tragic sense of unity, yet challenges remain.
From the early 16th century until the mid 1940’s, Indonesia found itself at the center of colonization and imperialism. The Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Japanese all took turns as uninvited rulers of Indonesian lands, but the nation gained independence by 1945. A 1965 communist coup brought General Suharto into power, and while the economy flourished for periods of his thirty-year reign, Suharto was an oppressive dictator who led with little regard for his people. Riots and a collapsing economy ended Suharto’s rule in 1997 and ushered in a time of reconstruction. In 1999, the first free and fair legislative elections were held and the economy has subsequently begun its climb upwards.
Persecution is a reality for many believers in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world. While only 15% of the population claim to follow Christ, the church in Indonesia is experiencing profound unity as a result of persecution, and mission organizations are growing in number, reaching many through evangelistic endeavors. Indonesian believers also face a unique challenge as many of their neighbors are in geographical transition due to large-scale resettlement projects, migration, and forced relocation due to natural disasters. However, the emergence of Indonesian as the national language has allowed the Gospel to be communicated across ethnic and geographic borders as never before.
• Pray for Christians to boldly demonstrate and proclaim the grace and salvation of Jesus Christ.
• Pray for peace and protection for believers amid growing Islamic momentum and expansion.
• Pray for entire families to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Blaine Scogin, Prayer Director of Persecution Watch and Voice of the Persecuted
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Jakarta has raised its alert status to the highest level, in the wake of suicide bombings that hit three churches. The blasts killed at least 13, including six suicide bombers, and wounded 43 others, in Surabaya, East Java, on Sunday morning.
The first explosion took place at the Santa Maria Catholic church followed by attacks at the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal church and GKI Diponegoro church minutes later.
Police chief, Tito Karniavan, told reporters it is believed that a family of six, a husband and wife and their four children aged between nine and 18, had carried out the worst attack the country has seen in more than a decade.
At approximately 7.30 am when parishioners were heading into the churches for Sunday services, the blasts occurred within minutes of each other.
The Guardian reported that police identified the mother as Puji Kuswanti and said that she and her two daughters,12 and 9 years old, bombed the GKI Diponegoro church [using waist-bombs]. At the same time, the family’s two teenage sons, 18 and 16, rode motorcycles close to the entrance of the Santa Maria Catholic church, where they detonated their [lap-bombs]. Dita, their father, drove a car bomb into the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal church. Media reports claim that the explosion at the Pentecostal church was the biggest compared to the other two bombings.
Karniavan said he suspected the family had recently returned to Indonesia from Syria, where hundreds of Indonesians have traveled to join Islamic State, including entire families. Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks through its media agency, Amaq. However, at the time of this publishing, no evidence has been produced to support the claim.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo condemned the attacks as barbaric.
In a circular distributed to police stations in the capital, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Idham Azis said,
“Following the bomb attacks, all areas in the Jakarta Police’s jurisdiction have been placed under the highest alert status until further notice.”
Indonesian police believe they have uncovered a clandestine “fake news” operation designed to destabilise the government and corrupt the political process, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported today.
Authorities have made a series of arrests across Indonesia in recent weeks linked to an online jihadist network known as the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA).
Damar Juniarto, of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network, said the MCA comprised groups or networks with links to opposition parties, the military, and an organisation of increasingly influential Islamists. Police have not revealed who is financing it.
The Guardian said one network it had identified “was created for the sole purpose of tweeting inflammatory content and messages designed to amplify social and religious division, and push a hardline Islamist and anti-government line”.
Digital strategist Shafiq Pontoh, from the data consultancy firm Provetic, told the Guardian: “The first victim in the polluted [digital] ecosystem was the governor election, Ahok,” adding of the controversial blasphemy conviction: “It was all because of fake news, bots, black campaigns, prejudice and racism.”
A bot is software that performs simple and repetitive tasks and is often used for malicious purposes such as posting defamatory content on social media platforms.
The Guardian reported that a cluster of bots in the Indonesia Twittersphere, used to pump out anti-Ahok material last year, stopped tweeting two days after the gubernatorial election.
Savic Ali, online director at Indonesia’s largest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, suggested the Muslim Cyber Army was not about the true values of Islam but “about power”.
Ahok, a Christian politician of Chinese descent, was sentenced to two years in prison last May following a string of protests organised by conservative Muslim groups while he campaigned for re-election.
He was convicted on the basis of a video in which he argued against use of the Quran for political purposes – comments for which he was later adjudged to have committed blasphemy. Six months later a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, was found guilty of tampering with the video on which Ahok appeared and which turned public opinion against him.
Meanwhile a spokesman for Indonesia’s Supreme Court has said the review of Ahok’s case may be fast-tracked because of the case’s high profile.
The spokesman, Agung Abdullah, suggested the court may consider speeding up the process of the case review, “because the case receives widespread public attention”, the Jakarta Post reported last week.
North Jakarta District Court’s head of public relations, Jootje Sampaleng, confirmed that the documents from Ahok’s ten-minute appeal hearing on 26 February had been signed and sent to the Supreme Court.
In a report ucanews shared with Voice of the Persecuted, Catholics in Indonesia were warned by church officials to stay alert in the run up to and during Holy Week following a number of attacks on churches in several parts of the country.
Holy Week begins on March 25 this year.
On March 8, six men smashed their way into a chapel in Ogan Ilir district in South Sumatra and burned statues and liturgical ornaments before escaping.
A month earlier on Feb. 11, a man armed with a sword burst in on a Sunday Mass at a church in Yogyakarta’s, Sleman district and attacked a Dutch priest and three parishioners.
“We call on each parish and mission station to stay alert ahead of the observance of Holy Week and Easter. This is very important,” Sacred Heart of Jesus Father Felix Astono Atmojo, vicar-general of Palembang Archdiocese in South Sumatra, said on March 13.
“We don’t want the church attack to reoccur,” he said. Read full report here
Annual policy applied on country’s independence, religious festivals sees 9,333 Christian prisoners have their sentences reduced, including former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama . Ahok was sentenced to two years jail in May this year, after being found guilty of blasphemy. read more
Series of attacks in Egypt targeting Coptic Christians forces churches to close
Egypt has been one of the worst places for Christian persecution in recent months. A series of attacks targeting Christians and forced closure of churches have caused Egypt’s Christian population to call on authorities for help.
The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said authorities sealed off two churches in the southern province, citing harassment and attacks by extremists. A third was closed because of fear of attacks. The statement was issued late Saturday. Read more
Father of slain Christian teenager condemns Burewala Police for intentionally fudging investigation
(PCP) A report by Burewala Police Constabulary who have been suggesting that the death of Christian boy Sharoon Masih was not a culmination of the bullying he received whilst studying at MC Model Boys Government School Burewala in Punjab, but a personal conflict with one boy, has hurt members of the former student’s family.
The grieving father of Sharoon Masih has asked BPCA to set the record straight after several publications seem to have joined forces with Muslim detractors in attempting to thwart justice for Sharoon who was only 17 when he was killed. Read more
Chicago Immigrant: Assyrians Suffered ‘So Much’ But ‘Still Have Hope’
Atoor Merkail, an Assyrian Christian whose immediate family — seeking stability and a better life — left their native Iraq last year to settle in the Chicago area, part of a Middle East minority with a rich history but targeted by ISIS in recent years.
Assyrians were among the first converted to Christianity — tradition has it by at least one of Jesus’ apostles.
“Most Assyrians, who belong to different Christian denominations and have a population of about 300,000 in Iraq, want to remain part of the country but aspire for political autonomy,” according to a recent article by Al Arabiya, a Middle East news outlet.
In the modern era, “Most Assyrians are in Iraq, Syria and Iran,” Merkail says. Read more
NPR gets it right about how bad things are for non-Muslims in Indonesia
…NPR report contradicts the widespread media fantasy of Indonesia as this happy inter-religious paradise. This recent New York Times article –- which attributes news of interfaith fights to ‘international news reports’ – is a case in point. Remember, former President Barack Obama showed up there last summer in Indonesia to tout the interfaith harmony there.
How he could wax eloquent about this with the Jakarta’s Christian governor recently jailed over blasphemy-against-Islam charges is beyond me. Obama doesn’t seem to realize that the Indonesia of his childhood no longer exists. Read more
Christian student loses appeal against university expulsion for ‘anti-gay’ views as campaigners warn of ‘chilling effect’
A devout Christian thrown off a Sheffield University social work course after being accused of posting “derogatory” comments about homosexuals and bisexuals on a Facebook page has lost a High Court fight. Read more
Prayer Networks collaborate to host conference call for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP)
This Sunday and the next, individually and corporately, we will have the opportunity to join with millions of other believers around the world to lift up our persecuted family in prayer. The first two Sundays in November (11/5 and 11/12) have been designated as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP 2017). Persecution Watch and Voice of the Persecuted, in collaboration with International Orality Network and other global ministries, will unite to host two 12-hour IDOP prayer conference calls for our persecuted family. This is your opportunity to come and pray and be the voice of the persecuted Church through those prayers. Please mark your calendar to stand in the gap and join the calls to lift-up our brothers and sisters suffering for Christ.
We believe prayer works. Stay on the call 5 minutes, 5 hours, or as long as you feel led. Your prayers make a huge difference in the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Details here