The Persecution Rests
A Dark Day for Pluralism in Indonesia

The Christian governor of Jakarta has been sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy: a chilling capstone to a scandal that has revealed rising intolerance in Indonesia. The Wall Street Journal has more:

The sentence for Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a close ally of President Joko Widodo, signaled that his defeat in an election last month didn’t end tensions simmering in the Southeast Asian country since mass protests against him more than six months ago—the biggest in the capital in decades. Prosecutors had recommended two years’ probation and no jail time. […]

“The tension will continue,” said Tobias Basuki of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. The battle, he said, is over who will define Islamic politics: hard-line or more-mainstream groups. […]

“There’s now a legal precedent that non-Muslims can be prosecuted for blasphemy if talking about Islam,” said Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It’s frightening.”

When this whole affair got started in November, investigating the blasphemy complaint was seen by some as a way to placate the hardline Islamists who demanded it. Instead, they were emboldened. Mass rallies against Purnama persisted throughout last month’s election, and his opponent won in large part by pandering to the most hardline Islamic factions. Their growing influence hardly bodes well for a nation supposedly committed to religious pluralism and tolerance. If well-organized extremist groups can now successfully topple and jail officials over a passing Qu’ran citation, such tactics are likely to be deployed again ahead of national elections in 2019.

Purnama is appealing the decision, and the national government has lately been making moves to crack down on certain extremist Islamist groups, like Hizb ut-Tahrir. But it may be too late to put this genie back in the bottle: intolerance is gaining ground in the world’s most populous Muslim country, and the country’s democratic and pluralist traditions are suffering for it.

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