Indonesia has banned the controversial, but politically influential, hardline group the Islamic Defenders’ Front, nearly three weeks after its leader was arrested for breaching coronavirus rules, according to the country’s chief security minister.
Mahfud MD said on Wednesday the group, widely known by its Indonesian acronym FPI, had been officially outlawed, effective immediately, citing alleged vigilantism and links to terrorism. FPI is led by firebrand Muslim leader Rizieq Shihab, a controversial figure in Indonesian politics who returned from self-exile in Saudi Arabia in November and was arrested in Jakarta earlier this month after appearing at numerous mass rallies despite coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings. “The government has banned FPI activities and will stop any activities carried out by FPI,” Mahfud said. “FPI no longer has legal standing.” The FPI was formed in 1998, setting itself up as a vigilante group and “moral guardian”, while gaining notoriety for attacks on bars and nightclubs, as well as on Indonesia’s minorities.
It gained political prominence in 2016, as Rizieq marshalled the massive protests that led to the prosecution and eventual conviction of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, on charges of “blasphemy”. Not long afterwards, Rizieq found himself the target of Indonesia’s pornography law, a legislation that the FPI had enthusiastically supported in relation to salacious messages allegedly sent between him and a female supporter. Rizieq denied any wrongdoing and later in the year left Indonesia for exile in Saudi Arabia. The charges were eventually dropped and since his return in November to rapturous crowds he has called for a “moral revolution”, fuelling tension with President Joko Widodo’s administration in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. Six senior government officials, including the attorney general, police chief and counter terrorism agency head were involved in the decision to ban the group, Mahfud said.
Deputy justice minister, Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, told reporters the FPI was outlawed because nearly 30 of its leaders, members and former members had been convicted on terrorism charges, and because the group conflicted with the nation’s state ideology, Pancasila, which stresses unity and diversity. Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, but the country of more than 267 million people has many followers of other religions including Christianity and and Hinduism. He was arrested a month after his return, days after six members of the FPI were killed in a highway shoot-out with police. That incident is being investigated by Indonesia’s human rights body, Rizieq is already in police custody.