Again we advise people, specifically expats, to stay away from Central Jakarta on Friday (02/12) when another massive rally is scheduled to take place. This second big protest rally, aimed against incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki Cahaya Purnama (better known as Ahok), may attract more than 150,000 protesters and could become the scene of riots and other forms of violence in the capital city of Indonesia. Many businesses will keep their doors shut on Friday to anticipate the unpredictable situation.
There currently exists a high degree of ethnic and religious tensions as well as uncertainty in Jakarta due to this case. An illustration occurred on Wednesday (31/11) when an important road in Central Jakarta (Jalan Thamrin) was temporarily shut down completely - causing massive traffic congestion - after a suspicious-looking unattended bag was found under a pedestrian bridge. However, the bag did not contain any explosives. This case does indicate the tense situation in Jakarta, especially after there have surfaced stories about radical Muslims planning attacks for Friday's demonstration.
On 4 November 2016 the first big demonstration took place in Jakarta, an event that ended in violence as some clashes between police and protesters occurred while some shops were plundered. In these demonstrations protesters demand for the arrest of Jakarta Governor Ahok. The stricter Islamic groups within Indonesian society are angry at Christian, ethnic Chinese Ahok because a manipulated video that surfaced on social media shows him insulting Koranic teachings in a speech that was taped in October 2016. Despite involving a manipulated video, the Attorney General's Office announced that it has approved the case dossier on a blasphemy investigation against Ahok and will ready the case for trial as soon as possible. This trial will be held at the North Jakarta District Court.
Ahok is charged with articles 156 on harassment and 156a on blasphemy in the Indonesian Criminal Code. He could face up to five years in prison for harassment and four years for blasphemy, if found guilty by the court. Chances are big that the court will find Ahok not guilty given it involves a manipulated video. In fact, the person who was the first to spread this manipulated video on social media has also been named a suspect by Jakarta Police. This suspect - named Buni Yani - allegedly violated Article 28 of the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law that carries a maximum prison sentence of six years. The spread of this manipulated video ignited hatred and animosity among the Indonesian public.
We assume that Jakarta Police and Attorney General Office go-ahead with the investigation and trial in an effort to keep matters calm. If these institutions would ignore the case then it could cause a much higher degree of unrest in Jakarta. It is also assumed that certain sides with political motives are behind these mass demonstrations a few months before the Jakarta Gubernatorial election.
In February 2017 local Jakarta citizens will vote for the new Governor. In this race incumbent Governor Ahok (together with his running mate incumbent Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat) compete with the pairs (1) Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno, and (2) Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) and Sylviana Murni. It is unclear what the effect will be of a blasphemy court case on Ahok's prospects to win this race.
However, it is also speculated that those who mastermind these demonstrations are against the Joko Widodo-led government and would like to see it fall. It has been reported that Indonesian labor unions may also join the demonstration in an effort to demand higher salaries (or in an effort to put additional pressure on the government).
The demonstration on Friday will be centered around the National Monument in Central Jakarta. However, as we saw on 4 November, unrest and violence can spread to other parts of Jakarta, particularly North Jakarta where Ahok resides. Around 22,000 police officers and soldiers will be deployed in Central Jakarta to safeguard law and order.