Mosques, streets quiet as Indonesia’s capital tightens rules

A man prays at an empty mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, April 10, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 10 April 2020

Mosques, streets quiet as Indonesia’s capital tightens rules

  • President Joko Widodo has ruled out a complete lockdown for the country
  • Indonesia now has more than 3,500 confirmed coronavirus patients

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Mosques usually filled for Friday prayers and streets normally clogged with cars and motorcycles were empty as authorities in Indonesia’s capital enforced stricter measures to halt the spread of the new coronavirus after deaths spiked in the past week.

Under the new measures that went into effect Friday, Jakarta’s mosques have been closed, as have shopping malls, restaurants and parks. Cars can only carry a maximum of three people, while motorcyclists can no longer carry passengers. Public transportation will now run at half-capacity and stop at dusk.

“There are no buses now,” said Siti Maharani, who lost her job at a now closed Jakarta mall and was trying to return to her home town. “This pandemic crisis makes life more difficult.”

The new measures come as pressure builds on President Joko Widodo to do more to stop the spread of the virus in this country of nearly 270 million people, the world’s fourth most populous.

Widodo has ruled out a complete lockdown for the country, citing Indonesian’s cultural characteristics, lack of discipline and the potential economic damage. Instead he has pushed forward with social distancing measures — including a countrywide request for people to stay home — and plans for widespread testing, though the latter has proven difficult due to the country’s ability to process only a few hundred of the most accurate tests a day.

That has put him at odds with Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, who has been seeking tougher, enforceable restrictions amid growing concerns about undetected cases in this metropolitan area that’s home to 30 million people. The Health Ministry finally agreed to Baswedan’s request for widespread social restrictions on Wednesday.

“I know this policy is hard enough to carry out,” Baswedan said late Thursday night. “But this was made to save lives and break the chain of coronavirus transmission.”
Indonesia was one of the last countries in Asia to report a case of the virus. Various Indonesian officials attributed the lack of cases to everything from the population’s piousness to the country’s weather, though experts say it was more likely a lack of testing and the virus was spreading all along.

Finally last month a number of clusters emerged, including one linked to a gathering at a Jakarta mosque in which 73 of about 150 worshippers tested positive.

The virus deaths of six dentists who had unknowingly treated infected patients increased public suspicion about the real number of cases, So too did an unexplained surge in burials in Jakarta last month, when 4,400 people were buried, 40% more than any month in the past two years.

Indonesia now has more than 3,500 confirmed infections, more than 1,750 of those in the capital. Of the country’s 306 virus deaths, 154 have been in Jakarta.

Health workers have warned hospitals could be overwhelmed shortly, while rights groups have called on the government to provide more safety gear for medical personnel following the deaths of at least 19 doctors and six nurses from the virus.

The new measures in Jakarta, which will be reevaluated every two weeks, give authorities more power to press people to stay at home and force businesses to close.

Police have the power to dismiss any event with more than five participants. Violators will face up to one year in jail and a 100 million rupiah ($6,350) fine.

On the first day of the measure, churches livestreamed services for Good Friday and were planning to do so for Easter Sunday in Jakarta.

The government’s nonbinding stay-at-home request for everyone across this nation of 17,000 islands has already taken an economic toll. Manpower Ministry data released

Friday showed that 1.4 million workers in both the formal and informal sectors have either been told to stay home or have been laid off.

There are concerns that many those put out of work in Jakarta could return to their hometowns in other provinces and potentially bring the virus with them.

Widodo has banned all civil servants, police, soldiers and employees of state-owned companies from returning to their hometowns to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

He said cash handouts would go to poor families to persuade them to stay in Jakarta, but he couldn’t stop them from leaving.


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”