No Jakarta rally, police tell Islamists

Anti-Ahok hardliners set to gather at major mosque must stick to prayers, keep peace

JAKARTA • Indonesian police yesterday urged Islamists leading opposition to Jakarta's Christian governor to ensure a mass prayer remains peaceful when it takes place just days before the capital's hard-fought elections.

Thousands of Islamic hardliners are expected to congregate at a major Jakarta mosque today for the group prayer.

But the authorities fear a repeat of the huge demonstrations of conservative Muslims seen last year against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is on trial for allegedly insulting Islam over comments he made on the campaign trail.

The prayer coincides with the final day of campaigning for next Wednesday's elections in the capital of the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, where Basuki, also known locally as "Ahok", is competing against two prominent Muslim candidates.

National police chief Tito Karnavian said the Islamists had to limit their activities to worshipping around the mosque and could not march through the city. The police refused an initial request by the Islamists to hold a rally.

"There will be only worshipping," he said at a press conference. If the Islamists attempt to march through the city, "the police supported by the military will take firm action", Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

The hardline Muslim group Front Pembela Islam (FPI) has been leading street protests.

More than 20,000 police officers will be deployed to keep the peace, Mr Karnavian said.

Basuki, also a member of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority, won popularity for his no-nonsense style and determination to clean up Jakarta.

But he has seen a once unassailable poll lead whittled away after being hauled into court for a blasphemy trial that critics view as unfair and politically motivated.

The allegations against him centre on comments he made about a Quranic verse. He accused his opponents of using the verse, which some interpret as meaning Muslims should support only Muslim leaders, to trick people into voting against him.

The protest movement against him and the court case have sparked concerns over growing religious intolerance in a country long considered a bastion of pluralism.

The FPI has also mobilised hundreds of its members to gather outside Basuki's blasphemy hearings each week to call for his arrest and removal from office.

But support for anti-Ahok activities has waned following a fresh probe against FPI leader Rizieq Shihab.

Separately, police have threatened to pick up Rizieq by force after he failed to show up again at the West Java Police headquarters yesterday for questioning, the Jakarta Globe reported. The firebrand cleric has been formally charged with insulting the five-tenet state ideology Pancasila.

Rizieq also failed to attend his first interrogation session on Tuesday.There was no sign of Rizieq or his entourage at the West Java Police headquarters up until yesterday afternoon, but spokesman Yusri Yunus said the police were prepared to wait.

"We'll wait for him until midnight. Not the end of the day yet," Mr Yusri told the Jakarta Globe, adding that there has been no communication from Rizieq or his defence team.

"We may issue an order to pick him up by force if he doesn't turn up," Mr Yusri added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'No Jakarta rally, police tell Islamists'. Print Edition | Subscribe