The Jakarta Post
Indonesia saw both political and religious tensions intensify on Friday, as a large number of Muslims gathered around the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta to call for the arrest of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama over alleged blasphemy.
Although the event, initiated by the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., some participants arrived at the Jakarta landmark as early as 5.30 a.m. Most of them were wearing white clothes.
The arriving worshipers first performed the wudhu cleansing ritual with water provided at the location, before sitting down on their prayer mats, facing the large stage for the sermons.
The gathering was a follow-up to a large anti-Ahok rally held on Nov. 4, when protesters, mostly from Muslim groups, swarmed onto Jakarta streets to demand Ahok's prosecution. That rally, which had started peacefully, turned into a riot in front of the State Palace as some protesters refused to disperse in the evening.
By midday, more than 500,000 protesters had flocked to the Monas area. More than 20,000 personnel of a joint security force were deployed to secure the event, which was scheduled to wrap up at 1 p.m. after the Friday prayer.
(Read also: Worshipers flock to Monas for anti-Ahok rally)
Call for order: National Police chief Gen.Tito Karnavian explains the result of a case screening of Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's alleged blasphemy in a press conference in Jakarta on Nov.16.(Antara/M.Agung Rajasa)
Last month, the National Police named Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, a suspect of blasphemy over a comment on a Quranic verse he had made during a visit to Thousand Islands regency in late September.
On Thursday, the Attorney General's Office (AGO) submitted Ahok’s case dossier to the North Jakarta District Court, paving the way for the trial to being in the high-profile case.
Addressing the rally, National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian urged the participants to support the ongoing legal process against Ahok.
The mass responded to Tito’s remarks by yelling 'Prove it, prove it!"
Earlier in the day, Jakarta Police arrested 10 people, some for alleged treason, just hours before the start of the rally.
"Eight people have been arrested and are undergoing interrogation by the Jakarta Police. We will wait for the interrogation results," National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said at the Monas square on Friday morning.
Among the arrested people are musician-cum-politician Ahmad Dhani, retired two-star Army general Kivlan Zein, former lawmaker Sri Bintang Pamungkas and Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, the sister of former president and ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Center of attention: Protesters gather on at the National Monument square, the main venue for the Friday mass gathering.(JP/Donny Fernando)
Despite the large number of protesters, police expressed confidence that enough personnel were on scene to secure the rally. Ahok, who is seeking reelection in next year’s gubernatorial election, called off his routine visit to his campaign headquarters in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Friday, citing traffic problems.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who had not been present at the State Palace during the Nov. 4 rally, made a last-minute decision at midday to join the crowd for the Friday prayer. (hwa)
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