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Hard-line Muslim Protest Against Christian Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama Ends in Violence

The saga began in October, when Ahok dismissed his political opponents who had cited a Quranic verse that warns against Muslims supporting non-believers

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Muslim protesters march during a demonstration in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 4, 2016. Tens of thousands of hard-line Muslims converged Friday on the center of the Indonesian capital to demand the arrest of its minority-Christian governor for alleged blasphemy. VOA
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A massive demonstration in Jakarta against the governor turned violent Friday night when protesters burned police cars and officers responded with tear gas and water cannons. Police say at least one person was killed and seven wounded in the violence.

The scenes capped off a dramatic day that brought more than 50,000 hard-line Muslim protesters onto the streets to voice their ire at the city’s Chinese-Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who has been accused of blasphemy.

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Tensions were high across the capital throughout the day, exacerbated by reports that Islamic State members in Syria had posted messages on social media calling for their followers to carry out attacks during the protest.

The marchers — led by the radical Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) — arrived from across the archipelago to voice their opposition to Basuki, known as “Ahok”, who is seeking re-election as Jakarta’s governor, in February.

Some chanted “death to Ahok” while others stamped on placards of his image, but violence was averted during the day.

Tensions rose as night fell and tear gas was fired after demonstrators began throwing plastic bottles at their officers early in the evening.

The saga began in October, when Ahok dismissed his political opponents who had cited a Quranic verse that warns against Muslims supporting non-believers.

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The embattled governor said that Jakartans had “been lied to” by the verse in question and remarked, “If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell … no worries. That’s your personal right.”

Ahok has since apologized and said he never intended to cause offense, but it has done little to placate members of the FPI, who have frequently rallied against him during his tenure as governor. Many among their numbers are enraged that a majority Muslim city is administered by a Christian.

While the outrage of Indonesia’s hard Islamic right has dominated Indonesia’s headlines in the run up to today’s much-hyped protest, voices from the moderate majority have sought to calm tensions.

Both of Indonesia’s largest moderate organizations: Muhammadiyah, and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — whose memberships number in the tens of millions — told their supporters not to attend the rally, although they did not prohibit it.

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Speaking to VOA, Asbit Panatagara, an NU activist, stressed that his organization is “committed to pluralism” and that the reaction to Ahok was overblown. Other moderate leaders have sought to underscore the ideal of a moderate, multicultural Indonesia.

Those who share this vision will be heartened by Ahok’s enduring popularity. The governor’s public intolerance for time-wasting bureaucrats has won him widespread support. His successes in improving public transport and flood defenses have also helped to boost his approval ratings to 69%, according to some local polls.

“I think for everyday Jakartans religious background is not really a big issue [in picking a governor],” Rendi Witular, editor of the Jakarta Post.

“What they believe is in the performance of the candidate himself, their credentials, and their vision, instead of religious sentiment.

“But there are several fringe radical groups who want to force this issue.”

Critics say that the central government, led by President Joko Widodo, has not done enough to face down these radical groups and that hatred and bigotry is being allowed to grow.

Sidney Jones, a longtime analyst of Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Southeast Asia, earlier this month blamed “spineless political leaders” for allowing extremism to foment.

“No one dares draw a line and recognize religiously-inspired incitement for what it is, let alone condemn it or take measures to stop it,” she said.

Jones also fears that growing conservatism in Indonesia’s political discourse is creating the conditions for resurgent Islamic terror.

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

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Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

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Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

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An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

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A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)