Several big businesses in Jakarta have taken the day off and encouraged their employees to stay inside during what many fear will become a violent protest from the hardline group known as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), and other Islamic extremist groups from Iraq and Syria.
Authorities are on high alert after the police and military confirmed that supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are expected to show up. Indonesia’s Defense Minister and the National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said this week that they are keeping their eyes peeled for ISIS sympathizers, and are ready to act if things turn violent.
Groups like the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, groups believed to be responsible for the January attacks in the heart of Jakarta, are expected to send people as well. Jihadist group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has said their “bullets will take care of Ahok” if the protest does not.
Director of Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict Sidney Jones told reporters that messages exchanged by various participating groups have encouraged violence today.
Rappler reports that it’s even possible for Al-Qaeda and ISIS (two groups that are actually rivals) to unite in Jakarta today against a common enemy, which is governor Ahok.
More than 20,000 police and military personnel have been sent to Jakarta to monitor the demonstration. Some are concerned that 50,000 or more hardliners could join the rally. Police were ordered not to carry firearms earlier this week. “With no firearms, certainly we can perform our duty but with a softer approach,” National Police Spokesman Agus Rianto told AAP.
The demonstrators are calling for the imprisonment of Ahok over comments he made about a verse in the Quran, which he said was being used to lie to voters ahead of next year’s elections. President Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla are asking for peace as tensions increase ahead of the rally planned against the Jakarta governor, a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese person to occupy the office.
Several embassies and private companies have issued warnings to expats in Indonesia, much like the following statement:
This Friday (4 Nov) there will be a massive rally by Muslim hardliners (FPI) in Central Jakarta. This is to demand the arrest of Ahok over alleged blasphemy.
Rally Locations / Areas to Avoid
The rally will be held after Friday prayers, starting at the Istiqlal Mosque and moving to the State Palace (Istana Merdeka). Other likely rally sites include the Gambir area, Jakarta City Hall, House of Reps Building, Bung Karno Stadium and Bundaran HI.
Security will be heightened in the capital with around 8,000 police officers, Brimob and TNI deployed to secure the area.
Unrest on Friday is probable and the organizers are trying to gain the support of opposition political parties for the rally which may result in very large numbers; the organizers are claiming up to 500,000 participants.
Reports of a POLRI ‘shoot-on-sight’ policy for the rally will also serve to inflame tensions and the potential for quick escalation cannot be discounted.
The threat of terrorism is also high, as militants could view the Islamist overtones of the anti-Ahok protest as an ideal time to attack.
Please take extra caution on Friday regarding your movements and avoid protest areas/crowds associated with the rally.
Image credits: GlobalIndonesianVoices