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Socdem Asia Resolution: Defending Indonesia's Non-Sectarian and Democratic Character

The Network of Social Democracy in Asia expresses its grave concern regarding the conviction of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, more popularly known as Ahok. His conviction on the grounds of blasphemy for citing a verse in the Qur’an which was also used by his enemies to malign him sends a chilling message that religious intolerance may be on the rise in Indonesia. However, further examination of his case shows that there are actors who have pushed for his conviction and immediately prior forged a political bloc to defeat him in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections. What has materialized is an alarming convergence of two anti-democratic forces in Indonesia: disgruntled political forces which have lost out on Indonesia’s transition to democracy who seek to regain lost political ground since the overthrow of the former dictatorship and anti-secular religious fundamentalists who seek to redirect the country to their fundamentalist version of Islam.

From the onset, Ahok’s electoral campaign faced strident anti-christian and anti-chinese rhetoric which has simmered beneath mainstream Indonesian society. It is troubling that such sentiments crystallized into a political force spearheaded by religious fundamentalists who seek to deprive Indonesia’s religious minorities of representation in government and aided and abetted by many of Ahok’s political enemies to thwart the current governing coalition under President Joko Widodo from securing an important political stronghold in Jakarta. This coalition of anti-secularists and anti-democrats wish to subvert Indonesia’s non-sectarian character. The political, social and economic spaces for Indonesia’s cultural, religious and ethnic minorities will narrow if such forces are allowed to triumph.

We must also commend the popular backlash from the general public of Ahok’s conviction and the sinister forces behind it. The huge protests in support of Ahok show the true nature of Indonesia as a non-sectarian, open, modern and democratic nation. The outpour of support for Ahok from muslims and non-muslims alike highlight the Indonesian people’s desire to keep the country true to its ideals of pluralism and religious tolerance. We urge the Indonesian people to continue to push back against the forces which seek to create an intolerant society and undemocratic society.

In the immediate, we call on a judicial review of Ahok’s conviction. Many Indonesians have already stated that his comments made during the campaign could not be construed as blasphemous or offensive to the Muslim faith. While it is absolutely detestable for any person to malign the faith of another, Ahok was not maligning Islam. On the contrary, fundamentalist forces actively used his minority status to impugn his person.

We also urge the government of Indonesia to review and reform its existing anti-blasphemy laws to prevent such statutes from becoming instruments to curtail free speech, harass political opponents and threaten religious and cultural minorities. At the same time, such must be partnered with efforts from the government to fight ethnic discrimination and religious bigotry which have found a sizable audience among the Indonesian population.

We support the Indonesian government under President Jokowi to take decisive measures to make sure Indonesia’s democracy on the path of welfare and respect for differences in her society.

Beyond the attack on Ahok's character and political career is the concerted effort to undermine Indonesian democracy and secularism. This must be addressed head on.