Not a Mobocracy Republic

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The December 2 demonstration was no longer relevant. The initial demand for the government to initiate legal proceedings against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) on blasphemy charges had already been met. Although it seemed rather forced, the police indicted him as a suspect for referring to line 51of the Qur'an's Al-Maidah verse in alleged derogatory terms during a speech in the Thousand Islands last September.

    Subsequently, much more quickly than other cases, the Attorney General's Office (AGO) decided the police file had met all the requirements for the case to go to court. The other demand from the November 4 demonstrators that the Ahok should be arrested was used as a pretext for the second mass rally on December 2.

    That, however, is something that cannot be forced by the street. The detention of a suspect, however, is something that cannot be forced by the street because it requires objective and subjective conditions to be fulfilled. Indeed, National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian told a press conference as far back as November 16 that neither condition had been satisfied. The objective requirement, a unanimous decision that the case can be construed as criminal offense, has not been met because investigators are divided over the issue.

    The three subjective requirements fall short of the mark as well. The first, that Ahok is an international flight risk, does not apply, given the fact he is already under a travel ban. The second, that the suspect will seek to conceal evidence, isn't plausible because the video of his speech is all over the Internet. The third condition outlined in the Criminal Code poses concerns that he might attempt to repeat the alleged offense is hardly likely in his case - unless, of course, he is suffering from a mental deficiency.

    So far, the AGO is in agreement with the police that Ahok should not be subject to arrest. The Jakarta governor is judged to have been cooperative upto now. Detention is a matter for law enforcement authorities, who must not give in to mass pressure, no matter how strong it may be.

    Whatever the reason, the December 2 demonstration was a manifestation of the right of every citizen as guaranteed by the Constitution. The police appeared to have carefully planned well in advance how to handle the crowd. They approached Islamist organizations, and Karnavian even shared the podium with Rizieq Shihab, founder of the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), in order to ensure that that the demonstration would be confined to the parkland around the National Monument.

    The president and vice-president also braved the rain to join the 200,000 demonstrators for Friday prayers. Interestingly, the Jakarta city administration, whose leader was the main target of the demonstrators, provided mobile toilets and fire trucks supplied the water for ablutions.

    This combination of preventive measures and a "friendly" approach should not be taken to mean the security forces were afraid of the crowd's demands. The police should never allow themselves to be swayed by the threat of mob violence. Although it was a blunder, Ahok's October statement cannot be classified as blasphemy. It will be difficult to find malicious intent in the words of someone who has overseen the building of a number of mosques in Jakarta since assuming office.

    The professional attitude of the police should also be applied to the 'stowaways' of the December 2 demonstration. Convincing evidence must also be found before investigators can proceed with treason charges against 10 activists, including Ratna Sarumpaet, Sri Bintang Pamungkas, Rachmawati Soekarnoputri and Ahmad Dhani, accused of attempting to overthrow the government of President Joko Widodo.

    A legal system that bows to pressure from the masses would turn Indonesia into a mobocracy, to borrow a term from philosopher Aristoteles at the birth of democracy. Such a state of affairs, he declared, is nothing short of anarchy. More worrying than the fragile state of the rule of law in Indonesia, is the likelihood of the Ahok case becoming a precedent, with anyone being indicted because of mass pressure. Nobody in their right mind would allow this to happen.

    As it stands now, the case is proceeding along the right lines. The job of the police, prosecutors and the courts after the December 2 demonstration is to ensure there is no outside intervention. The police should act against anyone trying to impose their will on how the case is handled.

    Respect for the law is an important precondition for the maturing of democracy in this country. Those who oppose Ahok and those who support him, should accept the verdict of the court when it comes. (*)

    Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine