Huge security force for Friday's rally against Ahok

Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama
Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama

Jakarta will mobilise thousands of police officers and soldiers to prevent repeat of violence at earlier protest

JAKARTA • Thousands of Indonesian security forces will be deployed at a rally on Friday against Jakarta's Christian governor, to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred a protest earlier this month, police said yesterday.

About 22,000 - mostly police officers and soldiers, as well as some paramedics - will be on the streets for the rally against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely known by his nickname Ahok, who has caused anger in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country by allegedly insulting Islam.

Police said they expect at least 150,000 protesters to turn out for the demonstration against Ahok, who is also a member of Indonesia's small ethnic Chinese minority.

The authorities named Ahok a suspect in a blasphemy investigation earlier this month after Muslim groups demanded he be prosecuted for allegedly insulting the Quran while campaigning for the governorship elections.

The controversy is being seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, where minorities have increasingly come under attack. Some observers say it is also as much about politics, accusing the governor's rivals of whipping up anger in a bid to reduce his support.

After a massive demonstration against Ahok on Nov 4 turned violent in its later stages, with one man dying as Muslim hardliners battled police, the authorities are taking no chances ahead of Friday's rally.

The authorities named Ahok a suspect in a blasphemy investigation... after Muslim groups demanded he be prosecuted for allegedly insulting the Quran while campaigning for the governorship elections. The controversy is being seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, where minorities have increasingly come under attack. Some observers say it is also as much about politics, accusing the governor's rivals of whipping up anger in a bid to reduce his support.

Police have restricted the area of the protest to a park around the National Monument in Central Jakarta and said the demonstration will take place from 8am to 1pm.

National police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar yesterday detailed the security plans for a mass prayer initiated by the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council's Fatwa.

He urged protesters not to bring any weapons. "It's forbidden to bring sharp weapons, like sharpened bamboo," he said, adding that at the earlier protest some people had used bamboo flagpoles to attack officers.

He pointed out that the security personnel would not bring arms to the mass prayer because they had promised to take a persuasive approach to deal with the participants of the demonstration.

He also said a second security ring will include areas where government offices are located, such as Jalan Medan Merdeka Utara, Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan, Jalan Medan Merdeka Timur and Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat.

A third security ring will include other government offices and hotels, such as Jalan Veteran, Lapangan Banteng, Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, Tanah Abang, Jalan Abdul Muis and Jalan K H Hasyim Ashari.

The spokesman said youth from several Muslim organisations will help the police monitor for any potential public disturbances.

The controversy began in September when Ahok accused his opponents of using a verse from the Quran, which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, in order to trick people into voting against him.

Even though Ahok has already been named a suspect, hardliners are now demanding his arrest before an expected trial.

The governor - who faces up to five years in jail if found guilty - has vowed that he will still contest the February election.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Huge security force for Friday's rally against Ahok'. Print Edition | Subscribe