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
(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