150,000 Indonesians March Against Governor of Jakarta in Violent Protests

On Friday, around 150,000 Jakartan Muslims took to the streets to demonstrate against the city’s Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, in relation to comments he made regarding the Quran.

The protest was spearheaded by the Islamic Defender’s Front, a militant group consisting of hardline Muslims who were offended by comments the Christian Governor made in September last year. An edited video transcript appears to show him suggesting that Muslim voters were being deceived by a section of the Quran which some interpret as claiming that Muslims should not live under the leadership of a non-Muslim.

Despite his later apology, and claims he was not criticising the Quran but his opponents who were using it to attack him, many Muslims have continued to call for Ahok to be arrested, with this sentiment culminating in the protests on Friday.

The rallies began peacefully, with the police providing a permit for the protest to continue until 6pm. A 20,000 strong police presence was nevertheless maintained including helicopters and armoured vehicles, and many foreign embassies, including those from Australia, Singapore and the United States, issued statements warning citizens to avoid the demonstrations.

The main protest also sparked others across Indonesia, with solidarity marches taking place in Java, Makassar, and numerous other cities across the country, according to Aljazeera.

After 6pm many of the protesters in Jakarta dispersed, but a smaller group remained and instead grew violent. They began to throw rocks and bottles at police, set garbage on fire, and tried to break through into the State Palace. After protesters began to use firecrackers and refused to leave the area, police responded with tear gas.

According to the Jakarta Post, at least two police trucks were set on fire during the confrontation, and numerous wounded policemen and protesters were taken away by ambulance.

The main mass of protesters then started to move to the House of Representatives building, where approximately 1500 police and military began to tighten security. Other smaller groups of protesters began to vandalise motorcycles and market stalls in the north of the city.

After the continuation of the police presence, the crowd eventually dispersed at around 4am on Saturday morning.

Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono claims that there was one fatality and that at least 12 police officers and four protesters were injured, although this number is likely to be found to be much higher. The fatality was due to an asthma attack caused by the tear gas used by police.

Indonesia is a predominantly Islamic country, with approximately 85% of the population identifying as Muslim, and any criticisms of the Quran are taken very seriously. Indonesian police have stated that they will immediately begin to process the case regarding Ahok’s alleged insults of the holy book.

Fraser Lawrance