Thousands of Islamic groups protest against governor's alleged blasphemy
JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – Tens of thousands of Muslims called for Jakarta's Christian governor to be prosecuted for blasphemy in a massive demonstration in the Indonesian capital Friday, November 4, sparking fears of violence and putting authorities on alert.
A sea of protesters wearing white Islamic robes swarmed the city's largest mosque for Friday prayers before taking to the streets in a huge show of force against governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, who is accused of insulting Islam.
The protest was triggered by accusations that Ahok insulted Islam by criticizing opponents who used Koranic references to attack him ahead of an election in February.
Hardliners have called for his death as Friday's turnout – estimated by police at 50,000 – eclipsed a similar protest last month that drew 5,000 chanting demonstrators to city hall.
While the protest was generally peaceful as of publication time, some posters called for violence against Ahok.
(READ: Jakarta protest ends in violence)
A large poster hung on a footbridge near the National Monument read: "Hang Ahok here."
Other posters saw a photo of Ahok behind bars, while other banners read "Send Ahok to jail," and another, "If state law cannot punish a criminal like Ahok, let Allah's law do it."
Pamphlets were also handed out to protesters with a chant entitled "The Wicked Ahok." Part of the chants insulted the President for protecting Ahok, and police for supposedly going easy on him.
"Religion is insulted. Al-Quran is stained. Islamic scholars insulted. By the wicked Ahok," it said.
It ended with, "Let us unite. Crush the stubborn one. Do you agree Ahok must be killed?"
Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told AFP there were no reports of violence so far.
Police have taken no chances in the lead up, deploying 18,000 officers amid fears that radical elements could infiltrate the march.
However, Rappler reporters on the field said there were no security checkpoints.
"The protest must be orderly, and avoid anarchy and emotion. The rule of law must remain in force," the police communications department tweeted Friday.
The military warned it was ready to back police if things turned ugly, with helicopters flying low over the city and extra soldiers stationed at key government buildings reinforced with razor wire and armored vehicles.
Some foreign embassies warned their citizens to steer clear of the demonstration.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo met this week with religious and political leaders to issue a unified call against violence while police sought to ease tensions by holding prayer sessions and broadcasting calls for peace on social media.
But anger at Ahok, Jakarta's second Christian governor and the first from the country's ethnic Chinese community, has spread beyond the capital, with solidarity marches held across Java and in cities as far as Makassar in Indonesia's east.
The governor stoked fury in September when he told a crowd they'd been "deceived" by his opponents who had used a Koranic verse to try to put them off voting for a Christian.
He later apologized but has faced persistent allegations of blasphemy, prohibited by law in Indonesia.
"Our holy book has been insulted so I felt moved to join. Ahok must be prosecuted", protester Zulfikar, who like many Indonesians goes by just one name, told AFP.
Others displayed signs stating "big no for blasphemy" and "detain and prosecute the blasphemer Ahok".
The governor – known for his tough-talking style – is hugely popular in some quarters for his determination to clean up Jakarta, an overcrowded, disorganized and polluted metropolis. – with reports from Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler.com