Citizens told to ignore incendiary rumors ahead of Dec. 2 rally
Moses Ompusunggu, Ina Parlina and Marguerite Afra Sapiie
The Jakarta Post
Rumors seemingly designed to incite anxiety have heightened political tension ahead of a rally planned for Dec. 2.
The rally’s demands, originally the prosecution of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy, have spiralled into a plea to overthrow President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo after the dissemination of fake news about an assault on Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab, one of the organizers of the demonstration.
A fake report spread on the internet claimed Rizieq had been hospitalized after being beaten by a member of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad).
The Home Ministry gathered regional administration leaders on Thursday to clarify the rumors and give updates on the situation.
Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, who was among the top officials in attendance at the meeting, claimed there were “opportunistic” parties that had tried to increase support for the rally.
“It is very apparent that it [the Dec. 2 rally] is intended to overthrow RI-1 [President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo],” Gatot vehemently told the governors, “and I have evidence that suggests there are parties outside Indonesia meddling in this situation.”
The military commander referred to the false rumor about Rizieq, who was one of the organizers of the Nov. 4 anti-Ahok rally that attracted tens of thousands of conservative Muslims.
Calling themselves the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPFMUI), the group held a mass prayer session on that day and later gathered in front of the Presidential Palace.
“[Reports of Rizieq’s assault] were not true. My aides found out that the sources [of the rumor] were [internet portals in] Australia and New Jersey in the US, proving that external parties are trying to divide our nation,” Gatot said.
Gatot said there was no need for protesters to stage another demonstration to demand the arrest of Ahok, who was named a blasphemy suspect last week by the National Police, as the police’s investigation was ongoing.
The allegations against Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, are based on his reference to a Quranic verse during a working visit to Thousand Islands regency in September.
National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said the investigation into Ahok was expected to be completed by Monday.
The GNPF-MUI has said protesters at the Dec. 2 rally would perform mass Friday prayers on Jl. Thamrin, Jl. Sudirman and at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, which the police claim is a violation of the 1998 Freedom of Speech Law because it could violate other people’s rights or disrupt public order.
The Jakarta Police have demanded the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issue an edict against the mass Friday prayers to prevent the rallies turning violent.
Deputy secretary-general of the MUI Sholahuddin Al-Aiyub said the organization had received the police’s request.
“We have handed over the letter to the MUI Edict Commission to be discussed. Insya Allah [God willing] the commission will soon deliver a statement about [the request in] the letter,” Sholahuddin said.
Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, Said Aqil Siradj, also announced on Thursday that the NU had issued an edict prohibiting Friday mass prayers from being performed on the streets.
“Friday mass prayers on the street is illegitimate,” Said Aqil said in front of thousands of NU members during an event that was also attended by Jokowi.
Previously, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin said the Dec. 2 rally was unnecessary and certain parties could take advantage of the situation.
“An individual might lose their self-control when gathering with a crowd of people and then what drives them is the psychology of the crowd. It has the potential to be taken over by opportunists,” Lukman said.
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