The governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by all as Ahok, has been sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy. His record of public service has been proclaimed wonderful by all those who want to see business and government here in Indonesia run efficiently without the plague of corruption. He stands for transparent budgets, bureaucratic reform, and better urban infrastructure. His motto is “work, work, work”, and that is what he has done, a modern man, fifty years old, working for a bright Indonesian future.

          My family members, laughing, because laughing is better than crying, say, “Ha ha ha, only in Indonesia is the just man thrown in jail while the corruptors go freely about their business.” Why? Because Ahok is ethnic Chinese and a Christian as are most Chinese here. That fact has easily been used by politicians manipulating the uneducated masses. More to the point, I am sure, is that Ahok won’t play the corruption game.

          Ahok accomplished great things for Jakarta as vice governor under Jokowi and when Jokowi became president of Indonesia, Ahok became governor of Jakarta. After three years of working hard to clean up the mess that is government and business in Indonesia, three years of trying to keep money out of the pockets of corruptors so it could be used for the people’s work: education, infrastructure, and environmental improvement, he had to stand for election.

          His opponents used a verse from the Koran to dissuade voters from voting for Ahok. Verse 51 says, “Don’t choose a “kafir” as your leader” which means don’t vote for an infidel. Ahok made the deadly mistake of telling a crowd not to be dissuaded from voting for him on this basis, something to the effect that ‘you should use your brain and vote for the best man for the job.’ This was construed by radical Islamists as “disrespecting the Koran” of being “blasphemy”.

          Indonesia aspires to be a modern country with a fine constitution based on The Pancasila, an inspired and inclusive document expressing five guiding principles for the country. In 1945, during the formation of Pancasila, there was much debate between nationalists who called for a pluralistic state and Islamists who wanted a religious state ruled by Islamic law or sharia. The nation’s founders chose religious tolerance. Fundamental to Pancasila is respect for each of the six major religions practiced in Indonesia. Considering this, what has happened to Ahok is almost unbelievable. But there it is.

          The leaders of this current Islamic justice are known as the FPI, which means the “Front to Defend Islam”. They want to see sharia law proclaimed across the land as in Iran or as it is in Aceh province here in Indonesia, a place famous for the deadly tsunami that killed two hundred and fifty thousand people in two thousand four, and for its magnificent and lucrative marijuana crop. How the latter jibes with the Koran is unclear.

          As one might expect there is much more to this story, layers upon layers, but, for now, the simple facts suffice. Ahok will go to jail for the offense stated. Despite very moving demonstrations in his support involving thousands of people, the fact remains. What it says about the Indonesian constitution and the ability of secular forces to resist pressure from fundamentalist Islam is the question to be addressed now and going forward. Now you know something about Ahok.


Ricker Winsor

Surabaya, Indonesia

May, 2017