Violence stems from inter-ethnic tensions

Liza Yosephine

The Jakarta Post – Jakarta. Pre-existing inter-ethnic tensions could explain the looting and violence that broke out in majority Chinese-Indonesian areas in North Jakarta on Friday night. Police also say the violence had nothing to do with the massive rally held by Muslim groups on the same day.

The rioting was likely fueled by existing tensions in the area and initiated by local mobs taking advantage of the situation caused by the religious rally in Central Jakarta, historian from Pelita Harapan University Yosef M. Djakababa said.

“It is the excess that arises and can occasionally explode, such as it did on Friday, because of long existing seeds of suspicion between communities in the area,” Yosef said on Sunday.

Relations between different ethnic groups in Indonesia more or less have their roots in the colonial period, including the division of different regions and the make-up of their populations, he said. However, he expressed regret that ethnic tension remained in some areas.

The government and local figures must also facilitate communication and interaction between residents in the area to ease pre-existing tensions and avoid further clashes, Yosef said.

“The government must be present, and the communities in the locations must continue to work hard to reduce mutual suspicion, and that is not attained by building higher walls in residential areas,” he said.

 Meanwhile, sociologist from state University of Indonesia Ricardi S. Adnan noted that trauma from 1998 was still too significant to allow a repeat of such events, adding that the rally had attempted to stay focused on its main goal, which was to demand that the police prosecute Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy.

However, Ricardi continued, crowds could be breeding grounds for out-of-control incidents.

“In a crowd situation, there is always a risk of actions that are beyond control, as well as other parties who take advantage of a violent situation for their own gain,” he said.

The police on Sunday named 13 suspects for their alleged involvement in the riot in Penjaringan, North Jakarta.

“Twelve people were initially declared suspects and we named another one after further investigation,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Awi Setiyono said in a statement on Sunday.

Besides naming 13 suspects, Awi said police had also put 16 names on a wanted list for their alleged involvement in the riot.

On Saturday, at least 10 businesses were recorded as being victims of the attacks. They included two convenience stores, an Alfamart and an Indomaret, and Bakso Tukul, a meatball soup outlet owned by well-known comedian Tukul Arwana.

Police lines have been set up around the area, located in front of the Pakin Transjakarta bus station, while as of Saturday night broken glass was still scattered around. People also pelted stones at police officers when the looting broke out at around 7:30 p.m.

Paryanto, 35, a field coordinator for vendors in Jl. Gedong Panjang in Penjaringan, said that most of the vendors affected were not traumatized by the invasion of hundreds of looters, but regretted their losses which were estimated to reach hundreds of millions of rupiah.

Meanwhile, despite initial fears residents of the Chinatown area of Glodok in West Jakarta, said they would keep their businesses open as usual but would stay alert.

Ahok, a Christian and Indonesian of Chinese descent, has sparked uproar among Muslim groups after he made a comment about a verse of the Quran during a visit to the Thousand Islands regency in late September. At least 100,000 people swarmed the streets of Central Jakarta demanding the outspoken governor be prosecuted over his allegedly blasphemous remarks. (fac)

Timeline of Ahok case

▼Sept. 21: Incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama officially registers his candidacy for the gubernatorial election in February with the Jakarta Elections Commission.

▼ Sept. 27: Ahok speaks to local residents and city officials in Thousand Islands about voting rights. The governor cites Al-Maidah, verse 51 of the Quran, which has often been used by politicians to deter Muslim voters from electing non-Muslims.

▼ Oct. 06: Buni Yani, a communications lecturer at the London School of Public Relations (LSPR) in Jakarta, edits the video of Ahok citing the verse and uploads part of it onto his Facebook page with a provocative heading. The video goes viral and sparks public outrage. Buni is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, and he holds a master’s degree in Southeast Asian studies from Ohio University in the US.

 Novel Chaidir Hasan, secretary-general of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), files a report with the National Police, charging Ahok with religious defamation.

▼ Oct. 10: Ahok apologizes to Muslims for any offense caused by the statement.

▼ Oct. 11: The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) officially announces that Ahok has committed blasphemy over his reference to the Al-Maidah verse. In a talk show aired by TVOne, Buni Yani admits to making a mistake in writing the transcript of Ahok’s speech that he posted online. He claims he misheard Ahok’s statement because he did not use earphones when listening to the video.

Oct. 14: Anti-Ahok rallies are held in Jakarta, Surabaya in East Java, and Bandung in West Java. The protesters demand Ahok be sent to prison for the alleged blasphemy.

Oct. 25: Ahok meets President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and visits the National Police’s detective unit in a bid to put the allegations he insulted the Quran to rest before he hits the campaign trail.

Oct. 28 : Campaign period for the gubernatorial candidates officially kicks off. It will end on Feb. 11 before polling day on Feb. 15.

Oct. 31: Jokowi visits his former presidential election rival and opposition camp leader Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra Party. Jokowi appeals to Prabowo to ask him to join in calling on political groups to ease tensions ahead of a Nov. 4 rally organized by Muslim groups, in which they will demand immediate legal action against Ahok.

▼ Nov. 1: Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launches a tirade against the government, accusing it of producing a false intelligence report that alleged he and his family are behind the planned Nov. 4 rally involving thousands of hard-line Muslims in the capital. Jokowi invites leaders from Islamic organizations, the MUI, Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah to the Presidential Palace and asks them to join him in calling on Muslim groups to ease tensions ahead of the rally.

▼ Nov. 03: Investigators from the National Police question Yogyakarta-based Indonesian Islamic University (UII) criminal law lecturer Mudzakir and FPI leader Rizieq Shihab as expert witnesses in Ahok’s alleged blasphemy case.

▼ Nov. 04: A massive rally calling for the criminal prosecution of Ahok for the alleged blasphemy ends in violence as protesters defy a police order to disperse. Jokowi believes “political actors” to be behind the violence, which leaves one protester dead from complications related to chronic asthma and dozens injured, including a policeman who lost an eye while trying to control the hostile situation.