Indonesia (MNN) — In a surprising turn of events, Jakarta’s former governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. Ahok was Indonesia’s first Christian governor running for re-election.
The blasphemy charges were leveled against him by extremist Muslims during the election. After Ahok lost the election, prosecutors moved to drop the blasphemy charges for a lighter charge that would only put Ahok on two years of probation. However, Jakarta judges ignored the prosecution’s advising, and moved ahead with Ahok’s blasphemy trial and sentence.
Asian Access’ Joe Handley explains, “In terms of the sentence itself, it’s a blasphemy charge because Ahok had quoted the Quran in what was interpreted to be out of context by the more radical side of interpretation of Islam. The moderates said he had no problem in what he said, but the more radical elements definitely had trouble with the way he quoted the passage.
“He lost the election probably because of this situation…. He was a strong believer and a strong witness for Christ in the midst of a very difficult country. So it’s a sad situation.”
The anti-blasphemy law in Indonesia has been in place since 1965. The utilization of Indonesia’s anti-blasphemy law rose in 2004 and has become an increasingly popular charge.
“It just shows you the need for really keen leadership within a country to be able to address problems like this. You know, [Ahok] did a fabulous job as a governor. But over and above that, when you have false charges that are levied against you, you need the type of environment created where people can speak truth in the midst of court systems; and unfortunately, he was taken out because of the…more radical elements of Islamic society in Jakarta.”
Indonesia touts Pancasila as an inclusive, multi-religious ideology they embrace. The country is comprised of multiple ethnic groups and over 700 spoken languages. However, Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation with the largest concentration of Muslims in the world — 87 percent of the population. While most are moderate Muslims in the secular society, extremist nationalism seems to be on the rise.
Analysts have remarked that Ahok’s case is disheartening because it showed that even someone who is the governor of the capital city and good friends with the Indonesian president can be targeted by religiously motivated attacks.
Handley adds, “I think it says a lot, not only about Indonesia, but the entire world. Everywhere we go where you have this kind of hard-right nationalistic approach to governance, you have these kinds of problems. So we’re seeing it worldwide with nationalism on the rise, which exacerbates the hard-line Islamic or other religious fronts. So in this ecosystem in which we now live politically it’s going to be harder and harder; and therefore, believers who are persecuted for their faith, I predict it’s going to be that much more difficult in these conditions.”
So what can the Church do? Handley says, “In these societies where you have radical Islamic or radial Hindu or radical Buddhist societies or elements within the country, we’ve got to be very wise and very judicious in how we lead the Church, in how we talk publicly about our faith, and how we address problems in society.”
Asian Access was recently in Jakarta, Indonesia celebrating 50 years of ministry throughout Asia. And Handley says they hope to have a deeper investment in the country through Gospel witnesses.
“When it comes to Indonesia, while we were there, we were able to meet some key leaders who are showing keen interest in the work of Asian Access — and what a better time. When you need Christ-like leadership in the marketplace, in the public sphere in the broader way, this could be a perfect opportunity for Asian Access to come in and do what we do well. We come alongside a few key leaders and help invest deeply in their lives so they can change the many in society.”
Please remember Ahok and Indonesia this week, and lift this case before the Lord. “Pray for Ahok as he’s facing the two years in jail. Pray for the country of Indonesia. There is a vast growing Christian population that is mostly underground, and in the midst of this kind of inflamed situation, they’re more at risk,” asks Handley.
“Then please pray for Asian Access as we discern our capacity and ability to move into the country and help serve the needs of that society. Pray that the right leaders would come to fruition for us, that God would open the doors for us to go in and serve, and then finally that the funding would come just in time for us to open that country and begin to invest deeply in the lives of key Christian leaders. It’s a key period of time for Jakarta, for Indonesia, and for the world at large.”
And if you’d like to support Asian Access as they ‘change the few who change the many’, click here to give at their website! The best thing that could happen in Indonesia is spiritual revival in the name of Christ, and Asian Access’ ministry partners are working to see God’s name made great throughout Asia.
Handley adds, “I just want to say thank you to Mission Network News and all the listeners out there who have come alongside of us over the years and supported the work we do. We’re deeply grateful for that.”