TAIPEI (Taiwan News) Nearly 2,000 Indonesians gathered in front of Taipei Station on Sunday calling for the release of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (鍾萬學), who was sentenced for two years in prison last week for allegedly blaspheming the Quran.
The vigil started at 6 p.m. on Sunday at the Taipei Main Station with approximately 1,700 to 1,900 participants wearing red and white (the colors of the Indonesian flag) clothing, waving flags and glow sticks, singing patriotic songs, and banners calling for the governor's release.
Protester waving Indonesian flag.
Purnama, who often goes by his Hakka Chinese nickname "Ahok" (阿學), was accused of blasphemy against the Quran for a speech he gave to citizens of the Thousand Islands in 2016. He told would-be voters that they should not be deceived by those politicians who intentionally misinterpret Al-Ma'idah 5:51 of the Quran to mean Muslims should not vote for non-Muslim leaders. The video was then edited to alter the context and uploaded to YouTube by Buni Yani.
The video then spread like wildfire causing many Indonesians considering his edited words an insult to the Quran. This eventually culminated in a trial for blasphemy against the Quran and though prosecutors had asked for a 1-year prison sentence, the judges handed down a two-year sentence.
Many believe the trial was politically motivated as the governorship of Jakarta can lead to the presidency of Indonesia and the next presidential election is in two years.
Afifah, 29, a caregiver from Surabaya who has lived in Taiwan for 6 years, came to the rally because: "I like Ahok, he's a very good person, so I came here to support him. Such a good person should not have been overthrown in this way, it was for politics."
She said that her personal religion do not alter her opinion of Ahok, "I'm a Muslim and Ahok is a Christian, but it doesn't matter, all Indonesians should unite together." She emphasized that he had done many things to improve Jakarta and help the poor.
She then added in Indonesian, "I just want to say democracy in Indonesia has to be followed, the wrong ones have to be punished and the right ones have to be freed. Go Ahok!"
Agus Ferdy, 32, a businessman from Jarkarta, who is Christian, is concerned about Ahok's condition because he has been sent to jail for two years. He considers his treatment as intimidation of the freedom of expression.
Regarding the blasphemy case, Ferdy says, "Ahok said 'don't be deceived by those who use this verse from the Quran,' but then they edited the video and made it seem like he said 'don't be deceived by this verse of the Quran.' They edited the meaning to be very different, to twist the meaning and posted it on YouTube. It's like saying 'I'm eating with a spoon' and they changed it to 'I'm eating a spoon.' So many people in Indonesia thought he blasphemed the religion, but this is in fact not true."
When he asked what most in Indonesians in Taiwan believe, Ferdy said, "The workers who go abroad are more open-minded. Most Indonesians know Ahok was already concerned with the poor and was also helpful for the people of Jakarta. He led an anti-corruption government. We believe that 60 percent of Indonesian immigrant workers in Taiwan support Ahok."
Ferdy said that Ahok was adopted by a Muslim family in his home town after his father died, having made a covenant to support each other from that day forward. "We don't believe he blasphemed Islam because he also has an adopted Muslim family."
According to Ferdy, the point of Ahok's controversial speech was to try and explain to voters that some religious leaders were manipulating verses from the Quran to benefit their political cronies, at the expense of politicians from other faiths.
"We believe Ahok is doing a service for the people, he's not the same as the people described in the Quran. It's a different context. The Quran was talking about choosing to take care of fellow Muslims and not rely on outsiders, but this does not apply to the Jakarta governorship election," said Ferdy.
Ferdy says another rally will probably be held next Sunday at the same time and location because many Indonesians did not have a chance to attend this evening's gathering.
The event, which started spontaneously and spread virally through Facebook and word of mouth among the Indonesian community, had a peak of attendance of 1,700 to 1,900, according to organizers, and ended around 7 p.m. Toward the end of the rally, protesters showed one final act of defiance by placing their glow sticks on the ground to spell the words "Free Ahok."