The racial and religious prejudice faced by the Jakarta governor of Chinese descent, who is now imprisoned for blasphemy, is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia. Ethnic Chinese and Christians in Indonesia have experienced systematic and prolonged discrimination throughout the nation’s history.

Earlier this month, former Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

The conviction follows his defeat in last month’s Jakarta gubernatorial election to a Muslim candidate, former Indonesian government minister Anies Baswedan. Ahok’s opponents ran a campaign against him based on ethnic and religious reasons.

Campaign against Ahok

Ahok obtained the position of Governor of Jakarta by default. He is deputy governor Joko Widodo, who vacated the governorship after winning Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election.

At last year’s election campaign event, Ahok told the audience that religious leaders who used Quranic interpretations against him were fooling Indonesians. These religious leaders interpreted Verse 51 of Al-Maidah as prohibiting non-Muslims from ruling over Muslims.

Massive protests demanding Ahok be jailed for blasphemy ensued. It is also laden with anti-Chinese slogans. For example, at the November 16 rally, some protesters chanted “destroy the Chinese”.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an Islamic vigilante group, organized some of these demonstrations. At one of the protests, FPI leader Rizieq Shihab asked protesters, “will you accept an infidel as governor of [Jakarta]?” – clear reference to Ahok.

Rizieq’s comments are not surprising. FPI has consistently opposed Ahok as the acting governor of Jakarta because of his non-Muslim background.

During the election campaign, anti-Christian posters and banners were seen on the streets of Jakarta. One of the posters that read “it is forbidden to choose an infidel leader”. Another banner stated that “Muslims who vote for an infidel [Ahok] … do not deserve a funeral prayer”.

Discrimination against Chinese Indonesians

Chinese-Indonesians, representing about 2% of Indonesia’s 250 million population, experienced widespread discrimination during the Soeharto era (1966-98).

The Soeharto regime banned Mandarin, newspapers, schools and cultural expressions. Chinese names are also prohibited. As a result, Chinese Indonesians were forced to use the name Indonesia.

In May 1998, during the devastating Asian Financial Crisis, Indonesians directed their anger towards ethnic Chinese who they inappropriately considered universally affluent. Rioters damaged Chinese Indonesian businesses in Jakarta’s Chinatown, Glodok, and in several cases burned them. During this period, many ethnic Chinese women were raped and several ethnic Chinese were killed.

Under Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2001), Indonesia ended a ban on the Chinese language, newspapers, schools, and exhibitions of Chinese culture. But discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians persists.

A 1967 decree prohibiting Chinese Indonesians from serving in the Indonesian armed forces still applies. And, unlike non-Chinese Indonesians, Chinese-Indonesians hold an SBKRI, a document that proves their Indonesian citizenship. This document is sometimes still required for Chinese-Indonesians to get a passport, register at school and get a business license.

Discrimination against Christians in Indonesia

Ahok is part of two minority groups in Indonesia. Indonesian Christians comprise about 10% of the Indonesian population. They have also been discriminated against throughout Indonesian history.

Since 2006, 500 Christian churches have been closed in Indonesia. Some Islamist groups have used a 2006 government regulation, which requires religious leaders to get community support before building places of worship, to demand the closure of churches.

Discrimination against Christians also occurred during the Soeharto era. In 1967, Muslim militants damaged Christian property in Jakarta, South Sulawesi and Aceh under the pretext of fighting the Christianization that Indonesia claimed.

Where from here?

After his election victory, Anies Baswedan publicly pledged as the future governor of Jakarta to “safeguard [Jakarta] ‘s diversity and unity”.

However, to ensure Indonesia remains an inclusive democracy, Anies needs to go further than that. He must directly condemn the ethnic and religious campaign being carried out against Ahok, especially by the FPI.

Furthermore, the Jokowi administration needs to dismantle the discriminatory regulations and policies of the Soeharto era against ethnic Chinese.

If Anies fails to denounce the ethnic and religious campaign against Ahok and Jokowi does not try to remove the anti-Chinese laws and regulations, the history of discrimination


Source : theconversation

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