On May 10th, Jakartan governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. This case tested the religious tolerance in Indonesia, a country with an 87 percent Muslim population. In his campaign for reelection in 2016, Ahok quoted the Quran to prove that it did not prohibit electing a non-Muslim like Ahok, a Christian, for office. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims protested in the streets of Jakarta opposing Ahok’s statement. Although prosecutors called for charging Ahok with “spreading hate,” the judges ignored the requests that would result in a lesser sentence and decided to convict him for blasphemy. According to Greg Fealy, associate professor of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University, “The blasphemy law has really been a blight on the rule of law and democracy in Indonesia for decades,” adding that, “the fact that Ahok was charged at all was really a product of massive street demonstrations that frightened the government into acting.”
Muslim Anies Baswedan defeated minority Chinese Christian Ahok in the election. The results of the case and the election are examples of the country’s increasing power of Islamic conservatives who have pressed for adoption of Shariah (Islamic) law. “This case is not about Ahok,” says Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. “This case is about the future of Indonesia. This is a sad day for equality among citizens in Indonesia.”
Due to pressure from majority Sunni Muslims in Indonesia, the Indonesian government has forced some Christian churches and minority Muslim mosques, like those of the Ahmadi sect, to close down. In a 2011 case, a group hacked and clubbed three defenseless Ahmadis, to death in front of police in western Java. Although Indonesia is a secular democracy, blasphemy is still a crime. Indonesia is only another example of a country in the rise of right wing populism.