Friday, May 12, 2017

Indonesia: World investors nervous after global backlash initiated by Ahok‘s blasphemy conviction

For his part, the president on Tuesday urged the public to respect the verdict, as well as Purnama's plan to appeal. "The government cannot intervene in legal processes."

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: Netral News
By Netral News | May 11, 2017

JAKARTA - The surprise two-year prison sentence handed down on Tuesday to Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy against Islam has drawn international condemnation -- and sparked concern over the state of religious tolerance in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia, where most of the population practices moderate forms of Islam, is often hailed as an example of how the faith can coexist with democracy. But the conviction and imprisonment of the ethnic-Chinese Christian Purnama, better known by the nickname Ahok, is causing many to question that statement.

The sentence, which was harsher than what prosecutors had sought, came despite "evidence that his words were manipulated for political purposes," London-based Amnesty International said in a statement. "The verdict will tarnish Indonesia's reputation as a tolerant nation."

The Southeast Asia branch of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also chimed in with criticism, as did New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The U.N. body said it is "concerned" about the jail sentence, calling on Indonesia to review the blasphemy law, which dates back to 1965. HRW, meanwhile, called the law "discriminatory" against the country's religious minorities, citing past cases of it being used to prosecute the Gafatar religious community and members of the offshoot Islamic sect Ahmadiyya.

The Jakarta court's sentencing of Purnama makes him "exhibit A of the law's dangers and the urgent need for its repeal," said Phelim Kine, HRW's deputy director for Asia. Kine added that "militant Islamist groups were successful in making Ahok's blasphemy prosecution a centerpiece of efforts to defeat him in last month's gubernatorial election."

Purnama was charged with blasphemy after he cited a verse in the Quran during a campaign speech last September. He criticized political opponents who used the verse to discourage Muslims from voting for non-Muslim leaders. The remarks unleashed a wave of protests and boosted the popularity of former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who defeated Purnama in a runoff vote in April.

On Tuesday, judges at the South Jakarta District Court said Purnama had been proven guilty of purposefully insulting the Quran. The two-year sentence was accompanied by an order for immediate detention. Purnama is now behind bars at a police facility outside Jakarta; his deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, has been appointed acting governor.

Purnama has said he will appeal. The financial markets, meanwhile, are jittery over the implications for political stability. The defeat and conviction of Purnama, a close ally of President Joko Widodo, is seen creating an opening for opposition parties ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

Nervous investors

Indonesia's benchmark stock index tumbled from an intraday record high on Tuesday, following the decision. It fell another 0.8% on Wednesday -- its biggest single-day decline in nearly four months. Analysts said investors may take a wait-and-see approach until there is more clarity on the political and social impact of the verdict.

"The focus will be on how the government will restore stability," said Helmy Kristanto, head of research at brokerage RHB Securities Indonesia. "In the near term, there could be a slowdown in terms of market turnover."

The Jakarta Composite Index is still up 7% so far this year, thanks to broader optimism about emerging market assets -- given receding fears over faster-than-expected U.S. interest rate increases. Foreign investors have been net buyers of some 26 trillion rupiah ($1.95 billion) worth of Indonesian stocks, fueling gains in shares of companies with large market capitalizations.

But further signs that the opposition is gaining strength may dent hopes for Widodo's reform policies, including infrastructure development, analysts warned.

"Ahok's election loss and court verdict suggest an important political repercussion for Indonesia: Rising power of Jokowi's opposition, suggesting the need for horse-trading ahead for the government," local brokerage Bahana Securities said in a note to clients. "[We] recommend investors to go defensive as a shield against continued political gyrations." Jokowi is Widodo's nickname.

For his part, the president on Tuesday urged the public to respect the verdict, as well as Purnama's plan to appeal. "The government cannot intervene in legal processes," Widodo said.

A coalition of dozens of local civil society groups, however, accused the Widodo administration of failing to protect Indonesia's democracy. They cited not only Purnama's case but also -- on the other end of the spectrum -- the government's recent move to disband the Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which took part in last year's rallies against Purnama.

The government said HTI's goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate runs counter to Indonesia's founding principles, known collectively as Pancasila. But rights activists said the disbandment was a blow to freedom of speech, with no record of HTI engaging in violence. The government announced the disbandment plan following rejections of HTI activities in several regions.

"The state -- in this case the government and the judiciary institution -- are showing submission to vigilante and crowd pressures," Gema Demokrasi, the coalition, said in a statement. "Indonesia is getting further from a democratic and just nation with [the incidents] over the past week."

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