Mass protests during Ahok's trial saw Islamic hardliners come out to call for his imprisonment. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
There were mass protests during Ahok’s trial, as Islamic hardliners called for his imprisonment. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

In his New Year’s message the Archbishop of Jakarta has called for “national unity” in Indonesia after a year that saw religious and political divisions deepen.

In his letter, Bishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo urged Catholics “to deepen [their] understanding of the state philosophy – national unity – as embodied in the motto: ‘We are different. We are Indonesia’”.

Indonesia’s Catholic and Protestant bishops also warned against division in their combined Christmas message, saying “our unity as an Indonesian nation is in danger of breaking”. They expressed their concern that Indonesia’s core values are being eroded through “unhealthy political competition that justifies any means: in the restricted fanaticism that exploits religion and in many other ways”.

Religious pluralism in the Muslim-majority country was challenged last year during the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s former governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”), a Christian and ethnic Chinese. His trial was characterised by mass demonstrations, with repeated clashes between his supporters and radical Islamic groups.

Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison but decided not to appeal “for the sake of our people and nation”. He said this in a letter read out by his tearful wife, Veronica Tan, at a news conference in May.

Now news has emerged that the former governor has filed for divorce from his wife because she is alleged to have engaged in an extra-marital affair. Catholic news agency UCAN reports that Ahok had sought reconciliation with his wife, but when that failed, he decided to go via the legal route. He has also requested the custody of their three children.

Lucius Karus, a political analyst, told UCAN “the case might well have a serious negative impact on Ahok’s career as a politician, as it could be seen by supporters as a stain on his image”.