After a first hearing on Tuesday (15/11) Indonesia's Police named incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki Cahaya Purnama (better known as Ahok) as suspect in a blasphemy investigation case, implying that he cannot leave the country while investigation is conducted. This announcement was made on Wednesday morning (16/11). About a dozen people filed blasphemy allegations against Ahok after a manipulated recording surfaced on social media showing him expressing disrespectful language about a specific Quranic verse during a speech in Kepulauan Seribu, off the coast of Jakarta, in early October.
In this manipulated video Jakarta Governor Ahok advises his audience "not to be deceived by Surat Al-Ma'idah, verse 51". This Quranic text says Muslims cannot have a non-Muslim leader. This manipulated scene was a sensitive one for Muslims, particularly hardliners, because Ahok is a Christian of Chinese descent. However, the full version of Ahok's speech goes like this: "don't be deceived by people who use Surat Al-Ma'idah, verse 51 [for political gain].
Although Ahok had already apologized to those who feel offended by his statement and emphasized that he had no intention to insult Islam or Muslims, the manipulated video was used by certain people with political (or racist) agendas to trigger public outrage and stage a massive demonstration on Friday 4 November 2016 in Jakarta. In Indonesia, religion is perhaps the best tool to be used to provoke public outcry. Perhaps up to 200,000 Muslims gathered to demand the arrest of Ahok in early November. This demonstration went peacefully during daytime but ended in chaos and riots in the evening hours.
Ari Dono Sukmanto, Chief of the National Police Criminal Investigation Department, said there was no consensus about the decision to name Ahok a suspect in an alleged blasphemy case. However, the dominant opinion was that it should be settled in court. Ahok was not present at Tuesday's hearing.
Although this decision of National Police is controversial, it is expected to be a strategy to keep matters calm in Indonesia. If police would have dropped the charges against Ahok then there could emerge more massive demonstrations, not only against Ahok but also against Indonesian President Joko Widodo (who is on good terms with his former Jakarta Deputy Governor). However, rights activists say Police's decision could set a precedent for persecution of religious minorities.
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. Last week a poll showed him in leading position. Ahok enjoys support - particularly among the middle class and elite segments of Jakartan society - as he is reform-minded, takes swift action and is non-corrupt. However, being a Christian (and of Chinese descent) strict Muslims tend to reject him.