The firebrand leader of a conservative Indonesian Muslim group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), faces criminal complaints that he and his organization committed several cases of alleged hate speech.
Preacher Muhammad Rizieq Shihab and his FPI have been linked as the leading group organizing recent rallies drawing huge crowds of Muslim protestors in street demonstrations against Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian who has been accused of blasphemy for citing a verse in the Quran.
“It is good if Rizieq becomes a suspect, because during this time, he feels he is untouchable,” Zuhairi Misrawi, a political analyst with a moderate Muslim forum, the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), told BenarNews.
Ahok is running for election next month to retain his seat as governor of Indonesia’s capital. Riziek is expected to testify as a religious expert for the prosecution at an upcoming hearing in Ahok’s trial, which has gripped the nation, the Jakarta Post reported.
Decade of hate speech
FPI is responsible for a series of hateful speech cases dating to 2006, Zuhairi said.
In October 2016, Sukmawati Sukarno Putri, the daughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, alleged that Rizieq insulted Indonesia’s state ideology – known as Pancasila –and the memory of her father.
After questioning Rizieq last week, police said they had moved from a preliminary to a full investigation of the allegations, according to The Jakarta Post.
More recently, the Catholic Students Association reported him last month for allegedly defaming Christianity.
Additionally, Bank Indonesia, the country’s central bank, and non-governmental organizations complained that the preacher had said in a sermon that the hammer-and-sickle symbol of Indonesia’s liquidated Communist Party appeared on new Indonesian bank notes. Police said they are involved in a full investigation into this report as well.
“We already increased the stage of investigation,” Jakarta Police spokesman Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono told BenarNews on Thursday, adding that officers would pursue other cases against Rizieq.
The cleric’s most recent brush with the law stems from a comment about Jakarta’s police chief.
Rizieq allegedly slandered Jakarta Inspector General of Police Mochamad Iriawan as “having the rank of general, but the brain of hansip (a low-level security guard).”
“So far, we already investigated the report’s witnesses. We have had interaction with some experts including experts in information technology, linguistics and criminal law,” Argo said.
‘Defender of the people’
Novel Chaidir Hasan Bamukmin, the general secretary of FPI’s Jakarta chapter, said the allegations against Rizieq were part of a global conspiracy to criminalize clerics.
“They deliberately try to find fault,” he said.
“We hope police can be wise, [and] view this in a fair and proportionate way because Rizieq is the defender of the people and Muslims,” he said.
Rizieq and some FPI members appeared before parliament this week to voice concern over the allegations against him.
Nasir Djamil, a legislative member who met with the group, said law enforcers needed to be respected.
“Law enforcement is for justice, not for revenge as revenge would destroy the people who do it,” Nasir said.
Nasir and Zuhairi, the political analyst with JIL, said all parties should respect the process, including the FPI.
“The legal process is ongoing, this what Rizieq should go through. It is time for police to take strict measures to prove that FPI is not above the law,” Zuhairi said.