Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, more commonly known as Ahok, was recently sentenced to two years in jail, with a minimum of 1 year to be served for blasphemy in Indonesia. Ahok was the Christian, Ethnic-Chinese governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, between the 19th of November 2014 and the 9th of May 2017. Ahok was the first governor in Indonesia with Chinese ancestry and the second who was Christian, he is regularly called a ‘double-minority’. His sentencing may point to a number of social and political changes within Indonesia, a country held up by many as a successful example of the joining of moderate Islam and Democracy.
What does Ahok’s imprisonment mean for Australia? Ahok himself has no direct ties to Australia, and the imprisonment itself is a domestic issue, however his arrest will have serious social and political implications. Ahok’s sentencing and the mass protests within Indonesia point to a growing cultural, social and religious trend. Many believe this trend is spurred on by states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar as they increase funding for schools, teachers, Mosques and many other institutions within Indonesia. These states may be attempting to export their stricter interpretations of Islam to Indonesia. Although, Indonesia (with the exception of the Aceh province) is a relatively tolerant and peaceful society as the culture and way of life for many Indonesian is moulded into their interpretation of whatever religion they adhere to. This creates large and formidable impediments for any state trying to export their interpretations. Nonetheless, some are being influenced by these changes.
Many Human Rights groups based in Indonesia fear the religious intolerance there is growing unchecked. An article by The Lowy Institute describes Indonesia as becoming more visibly Islamic, and that minorities are currently facing more and more discrimination and violence by fundamentalist groups. These social changes can be linked to political trends as many within the Indonesian government fear prosecuting these groups, so as to not lose the vote of many within these communities. Additionally, certain Judges have also been seen citing the heads of hard-line Islamist groups as ‘experts’ in certain trials. This occurred in the case of the Bali nine duo, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, and now in Ahok’s blasphemy case. Tensions between Australia and Indonesia are currently in a better place than in previous years. Indonesia is an extremely important geopolitical ally for Australia, and that should never be downplayed. Australia needs to do what it can to ensure the influence of these hard-line groups doesn’t become mainstream. This can be achieved through increased cooperation economically, politically, educationally and also through larger student intakes and outlets.
Andrea’s Harsono, an Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch was quoted as saying 'Ahok’s is the biggest blasphemy case in the history of Indonesia. He is the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, an ally of the president. If he can be sent to jail, what could happen to others?' Indonesia is currently an economically and politically stable state that is growing both in GDP and influence. This trend towards Islamism could become something very serious in the years to come; Australia needs to do what it can to support those within Indonesia who seek to ensure fairness, tolerance and justice.
Jake Kay is currently undertaking a Bachelor of International Relations at Curtin University.