As Jakarta’s new governor, Anies Baswedan, starts his new job, he should use his role “to protect and promote human rights in the Indonesian capital”, writes Human Rights Watch in a letter addressed to him.
The rights group urges him to ”use the powers at your disposal to defend the rights of Jakarta’s religious minorities, including its Shia, Ahmadiyah, and Christian communities from hate crimes and discrimination. These groups are highly vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, and violence by militant Islamists. They are also deprived of essential government services, such as the issuance of government and restrictions on permits for construction of houses of worship”. In the letter, the NGO also addressed the use of divisive language in his inaugural address.
Baswedan, a Muslim, won the election in the second round of voting in April from Jakarta’s former governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as ‘Ahok’), an ethnic Chinese Christian.
The campaign in the run-up to the election was dominated by Ahok’s trial on charges of ‘blasphemy’, which he denied – a case that challenged religious pluralism in Indonesia, with repeated clashes between Ahok’s supporters and radical Islamic groups.
During the trial a senior figure in the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organisation, told ABC news Ahok “was not guilty and the case that he is charged with, it has all been a manipulative thing going on for the purpose of the election”.
Ahok, however, was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy, a sentence he decided not to challenge “for the sake of the people”.
Following the sentence, the UN called on the Indonesian government to repeal blasphemy laws, saying they undermine religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation. UN officials 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”.
At the UN General Assembly this September, its Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief reiterated that “the application [of blasphemy laws] more often than not invites a cycle of hatred and hostility, reinforcing prejudice and triggering a spiral of angry and violent responses”.
‘A lot of noise’
Although religion was the dominant feature of the Governor election campaign, there was much more to it, according to Paul Marshall, Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and senior fellow at the Leimena Institute in Jakarta. “Ahok was opposed by the many politicians who benefit from endemic corruption” he said. “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 buses to bring in demonstrators from afar, as well as the neatly printed signs and shirts.”
Shortly after Ahok’s sentencing, two suicide bombers attacked Jakarta, killing three policemen who were based at a bus terminal ahead of policing for a pre-Ramadan parade.