Chinese-Indonesian politician reports Muslim official over Mandarin campaign remark

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A National Awakening Party (PKB) politician of Chinese descent has filed a police report against a senior Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) official for questioning his use of Mandarin to gain support from Chinese-Indonesian voters.

Mr Heriandi Lim, a legislative candidate, filed the report on Sunday (Jan 6).

He claimed that a Jan 2 tweet made by Mr Tengku Zulkarnain, the deputy secretary-general of MUI, in which he questioned Mr Heriandi's nationality for using Mandarin on his campaign poster was a form of hate speech.

Mr Zulkarnain's tweet, which has since been deleted, received 1,896 likes, 1,210 retweets and 771 comments.

"This is the campaign posters of legislative candidates. The question is, which country are these candidates from...? If these are truly campaign posters for an election in Indonesia, how do all of you feel about them...? Happy...? Or upset...?" Mr Zulkarnain wrote on his Twitter account @ustadtengkuzul.

The post was accompanied by a photo of campaign posters for Mr Heriandi and four other candidates that bear Chinese characters.

Mr Heriandi said he was reporting Mr Zulkarnain for allegedly spreading hatred, in accordance to Article 28 (2) of Law No. 11/2008 on information and electronic transactions, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six years and a fine of one billion rupiah (S$96,000).

The legislative candidate also accused Mr Zulkarnain of violating Article 310 of the Criminal Code, which carries a nine-month jail term.

"I came here to file a report against a blasphemous statement made by an Indonesian," Mr Heriandi told reporters after submitting his report at the National Police's Criminal Investigation Division (Bareskrim) in Central Jakarta on Sunday.

"I was warned beforehand not to come because the person I'm reporting is said to have impunity and can say whatever he wants. But I ignored (the warnings)."

Mr Heriandi said he became aware of the situation upon receiving a notification from Facebook asking whether he wanted to tag himself in a photo.

He was shocked to discover that the photo was part of several Facebook posts urging people not to vote for him in the upcoming April 17 legislative election.

He later found that someone on Twitter had slammed his election campaign for using Chinese characters, prompting him to report the person to Bareskrim.

"The Chinese characters form my Chinese name; I don't know why that's such a problem for them," Mr Heriandi said, adding that he had decided to use Chinese characters on his campaign posters to cater to his Chinese-Indonesian constituents.

He questioned the motives of Mr Zulkarnain's Twitter post, which doubted his Indonesian citizenship.

"It's clear that I'm a legislative candidate and an Indonesian citizen that has passed the National Election Commission's (KPU) screening test to run for a legislative seat," he said.

PKB secretary-general Daniel Johan stepped forward in defence of Mr Heriandi.

"I don't see a problem with (campaigning in Mandarin); it's a similar campaign strategy used by other legislative candidates who use local languages such as Javanese, Maduranese, Batak and Arabic," Mr Daniel told The Jakarta Post. "It's a cultural approach to winning the hearts of the constituents."

Mr Surya Tjandra, a legislative candidate from the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), echoed Mr Daniel's sentiments.

"Heriandi has perhaps used a more specific campaign approach, but there's nothing wrong with that," he said on Monday. "His name is still Indonesian; his party is also still Indonesian... They (the posters) basically encourage people to vote and perhaps his constituents are impressed by that - it is their choice."