Aside from the joys of diversity and learning from people different to ourselves, one of the benefits of living in a multi-religious society is that sometimes the holidays overlap. In Indonesia, there are six officially recognised faiths, and their holy days are marked as public holidays by all. It just so happens that this year the Ascension of Christ and the Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad are marked consecutively on Thursday and Friday this week, adding up to a four-day weekend for workers in Jakarta.
In a display of love for the capital they call home, Jakartans began fleeing the city on Wednesday night in an expected weekend exodus of around 127,000 vehicles. To demonstrate what that looks like on the ground, traffic on the toll road to the airport on Wednesday evening was reported to be moving at an average speed of 30 km/h (Kingsford Smith, eat your heart out). Drone footage showed congestion continuing late into the night.
Before jetting off for the long weekend, government officials in Jakarta were able to celebrate the release of 10 Indonesian hostages who had been captive by the Islamist militant Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines for more than a month. Another four Indonesians and four Malaysians are still being held by the group at another location. After a Canadian hostage was beheaded last week, authorities moved quickly to secure the release of the Indonesian boat crew members who had been abducted by Abu Sayyaf. The 10 men were returned to Jakarta on Sunday and reunited with their families on Monday this week.
It's still unclear exactly how the release was negotiated, and whether a ransom was paid. Vice President Jusuf Kalla confirmed to media on Wednesday that no ransom was paid to the ISIS-linked group. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi credited coordination between the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines as a key factor for success. [fold]
Meanwhile, a report by the Jakarta Post alleges that the sailors' employer, as well as civil society groups and certain public figures, played a shadow role in the release that may have included paying a ransom. Media mogul Surya Paloh has claimed a role in the process through a group called the Sukma Foundation, which he founded. In response, Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan commented only that many actors were involved, and that few details can be revealed while four more Indonesian sailors remain captive.
In other news, a horrific case of gang rape and murder of a schoolgirl in the western Indonesian province of Bengkulu became a rallying cry for feminists in the capital, who are pushing for the ratification of a law against sexual violence. A candlelit vigil was held outside the State Palace in Jakarta on Wednesday to remember the 14-year-old victim, identified by her family as Yuyun, who was raped and killed by 14 boys and men on her way home from junior high school. The incident took place in April, but hit national headlines this week due to the efforts of women's rights advocates.
Indie rock singer and activist Kartika Jahja started the hashtag #NyalaUntukYuyun, or 'light a candle for Yuyun', to draw attention to the tragedy and to garner public solidarity against sexual violence. Rights advocates Yenni Kwok and Kate Walton, an Australian feminist activist, were also instrumental in bringing the issue to international attention. The cause continued to gain traction among celebrities, public figures and others, until President Jokowi finally responded in a tweet on Wednesday, calling for the heaviest possible punishment against the perpetrators. It remains to be seen what impact the campaign will have not only on the case, but on the passage of the bill to tighten regulations against sexual violence nationwide.
Photo by Flickr user Selka.