Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Indonesia Says Jakarta’s Christian Governor Is Suspected of Blasphemy
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia was thrown into turmoil on Wednesday after the National Police named the Christian governor of the country’s capital a suspect in a blasphemy investigation over comments he made about the Quran. Outrage over those remarks set off bloody street protests this month.
The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta’s popular leader, has been barred from leaving the country as the authorities continue their investigation of him, Tito Karnavian, the national police chief, said at a televised news conference.
Mr. Basuki, who is known as Ahok and is running for re-election in February, has been a political target of radical Islamic organizations since taking office in 2014. Some of those groups seized on comments he made in September to a group of fishermen, in which he lightheartedly cited a Quran verse that warns against taking Christians and Jews as friends.
Islamic groups opposed to Mr. Basuki, who is an ethnic Chinese Indonesian and a political ally of President Joko Widodo, staged a huge protest march through the capital on Nov. 4 that ended in violence, with one killed and hundreds injured, as protesters set cars ablaze and battled with riot police officers.
Political analysts have said that the protests against Mr. Basuki were orchestrated by national opposition parties to sabotage his campaign, and also to embarrass Mr. Joko, who in 2014 became the first Indonesian president from outside the country’s traditional political elite or military.
Nonetheless, the Indonesian National Police, under heavy public scrutiny by conservative Islamic groups, elevated a continuing inquiry.
Mr. Karnavian said at the news conference that despite strong disagreement among investigators that the governor had violated Indonesia’s archaic blasphemy laws, the case would go to trial.
“We agreed to take the case to an open judiciary process,” he said, citing a need for transparency and referring to the recent trial of an Indonesian woman convicted last month of murdering her friend by spiking her coffee with cyanide at an upscale cafe in central Jakarta this year.
Some Indonesian analysts said the protests were motivated more by politics than by religion, adding that the groups that organized them had done so at the behest of opposition political parties. The political parties have denied that, but they have joined in the calls for Mr. Basuki to be prosecuted.
Mr. Basuki, 50, is the first Christian in several decades to be governor of Jakarta.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, but its people practice a pluralistic brand of Islam. Parts of the country, however, are rigidly conservative, and there are periodic outbreaks of violent radicalism.