Indonesians Are Protesting Jailing Of Christian Politician With Mass Musical Rallies

Supporters of an imprisoned Christian politician in Indonesia gathered together in the country’s capital on Wednesday to protest his controversial jail sentence in a remarkable way ― by bursting out in song. 

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known locally by his nickname Ahok, was sentenced to two years in jail Tuesday for blasphemy against the Quran. The Christian politician is appealing the verdict, which international human rights groups have roundly condemned. 

Purnama’s supporters voiced their dismay at the harsh verdict against the former Jakarta governor on Wednesday, when they crowded outside of Jakarta’s City Hall on Wednesday for a musical rally. 

Dressed in the national colors of red and white, the supporters sang Indonesia’s national anthem, and other patriotic songs. Video filmed of the event showed hundreds of protestors, including some wearing bright red hijabs, waving their arms in unison as they sang. 

The renowned conductor, Addie MS, led the performance. 

Speaking with the Jakarta Globe, Addie said that he and members of his Twilite Orchestra spread news of the planned protest through the phone application WhatsApp. 

While the rally was organized to show support for the imprisoned politician, Addie said that it was also about promoting unity in Indonesia. 

“The focus has shifted. It is not only about Ahok, but also the recent issues that created divisive tensions among us. My concern is how to preserve the essence of Pancasila [the founding principles of the Indonesia state] and our Bhinneka Tungga Ika [unity in diversity],” Addie told the Jakarta Globe.

“Hopefully, these songs will revive our spirit and unite Indonesia through music,” Addie told the Globe. 

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. It is also home to significant numbers of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and people of indigenous beliefs. In recent years, minorities have expressed fear that the influence of Islamist hardliners in the country is undermining the moderate form of Islam practiced by most Indonesians.  

Purnama was placed on trial last year for allegedly insulting the Quran. He reportedly claimed that his political rivals were misusing a verse in the holy book to convince people that Muslims should only be led by other Muslims. 

News of that criticism angered some hardliners, who organized mass street protests demanding the former governor’s arrest. Purnama lost his bid for re-election in April to a Muslim candidate, after a race tinged with religious tensions. 

Protests against Purnama’s sentence continued throughout the week, after he was moved to a detention center in West Java. The Jakarta Post reports that the protestors have been making speeches and holding candlelight vigils.

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