A coalition advocating free speech and human rights is alerting the Indonesian public and authorities to a rash of cases where supporters of a hardline Muslim group have allegedly intimidated people for posting online content critical of the organization’s leader.
This week the Anti-Persecution Coalition held a news conference to air concerns over cases of harassment against social media users by members of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) and other groups. The coalition says these have become more frequent following the arrest last year of then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama on blasphemy charges.
The coalition of more than a dozen local NGOs said at least 59 cases of intimidation by the FPI and others have been recorded this year alone.
“Based on this data, we think it is necessary to be alert to this kind of mistreatment,” Damar Juniarto, the regional coordinator of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), a member of the coalition, told the news conference in Jakarta on Thursday.
Cases that have made headlines include the alleged harassment of a female physician, Fiera Lovita, over a Facebook post that FPI members deemed as insulting to their leader, Rizieq Shihab. Additionally, a video recording that has gone viral shows alleged FPI supporters slapping a 15-year-old ethnic Chinese Indonesian boy for posting online comments that were seen as criticizing or making fun of Rizieq.
The fugitive Rizieq is wanted by Indonesian police on suspicion of violating Indonesia’s anti-pornography law by exchanging lewd images with a woman through text messages.
Ahok, another member of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese-Christian minority, recently lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election and last month was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison over alleged anti-Muslim comments. Critics of Ahok had wanted him to receive a stricter sentence.
“There are plenty of people who have lost trust in the legal system … but it doesn’t give them the right to take matters into their own hands and resort to violence and intimidation,” Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (YLBHI) Director Asfinawati told BenarNews. The foundation, which belongs to the coalition, has set up a hotline number for victims of harassment to call or send text messages.
‘Under pressure and afraid’
During Thursday’s news conference, Fiera spoke about how she had suffered from alleged intimidation by FPI members.
The resident of Solok, West Sumatra, said she had been targeted for intimidation since her Facebook comment posted sometime between May 19 and 21 went viral.
“If innocent, why run away? There are 300 lawyers and 7 million members of the congregation ready to assist you. Please stop running away bib,” she said without naming Rizieq.
“The intimidation was real and I still experience it now even though with less intensity,” Fiera said, adding that she and her two young children had moved to Jakarta temporarily because of the constant harassment.
On May 22, she said, a Solok police officer came to the hospital where Fiera works. The officer showed her a Facebook post of FPI members who said they were going to hunt her down because of her comment.
The next day, her boss called and asked that she come to the office immediately. When Fiera arrived, a top hospital executive said “there is a group of mass organization leaders, including a leader of FPI,” who wanted to see Fiera.
During the meeting with FPI members, police officers and the hospital’s board of directors, Fiera said she was told to apologize, repent for her action and made to promise not to do it again.
“I had to say it as I choked and held back my tears. I was feeling miserable, because I was under pressure and afraid,” she said.
“After I said I was sorry, the leaders took turns introducing themselves and preaching to me about this matter,” she added.
Fiera said they could not accept her post because “according to them, Habib Rizieq Shihab’s case was fabricated and slanderous.”
Forced to sign statement
Jakarta Police spokesman Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono said officers were quick to respond to the case of the 15-year-old. The boy, his mother and siblings were taken to police headquarters to be questioned about the incident.
“We have arrested two alleged intimidators. They are from a certain group,” Raden told BenarNews without identifying the suspects or their group. The suspects could be charged with violating child protection laws and battery.
The video shows the boy surrounded by a group of men who slap him and threaten him with bodily harm. He is forced to read a statement denouncing his posting.
Argo said the boy was being assisted by YLBHI advocates and child-rights activists.
“He could be placed under the witness and victims’ protection program,” Raden said.
FPI Secretary General Novel Bamukmin could not be reached for comment on the video showing the teenager being harassed and slapped, but an Indonesian news website said that Novel could not identify the men or confirm if they were members of his group.
“I have no idea. I don’t know them. It could be a group of men claiming to be FPI,” Novel was quoted as saying, adding they were reacting to actions they considered insulting to clerics and Islam.