JAKARTA (Reuters) - Thousands of Indonesian Muslims from conservative groups held a peaceful rally in central Jakarta on Monday, with a spokesman for one of the organisers calling for unity after a spike in religious tension followed elections last April.
Among the protest organisers was the Alumni 212 movement, which was behind big rallies held from 2016 to demand action against Jakarta’s former governor, a Christian eventually jailed for blasphemy in a case that drew international condemnation.
The crowd, many wearing white and carrying Islamic flags, began gathering for prayers at Jakarta’s National Monument from about 3 a.m., as more than 6,000 security forces, including police and military, stood on guard.
“The main message of this reunion is that Indonesia needs unity that can forget differences and friction that happened some time ago,” said Haikal Hassan, a spokesman for Alumni 212, which takes its name from an earlier Dec. 2 protest.
However, authorities were unfairly targeting some clerics, he said by telephone.
“We want Indonesia to progress with justice. And we feel that there’s injustice,” Hassan added.
The bloc of conservative Muslims also overwhelmingly backed an opposition challenge to President Joko Widodo in April’s vote, fuelling concerns over a deepening religious divide in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.
Habib Rizieq, the leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), urged vigilance against future blasphemy cases in a speech by live video link from Saudi Arabia, where he has lived since 2017, after being named a suspect in several legal cases.
More than 12,000 people participated in the rally, said Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus, although organisers put the figure much higher.
Security analyst Stanislaus Riyanta said a decision by former opposition leader Prabowo Subianto, whom Widodo defeated in April’s poll, to join the cabinet as defence minister appeared to have undermined the 212 movement.
“The 212 reunion this time is weaker than the previous ones because it has lost some political momentum,” added the Jakarta-based Riyanta.
Prabowo, a former general, who had addressed a similar rally a year ago, did not attend this time.
The movement’s spokesman, Hassan, did not say how it would line up in future politically.
“We can’t give directions yet, because we don’t know where our politics is going,” he said.
Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez