Once lauded by his followers for standing in front of two-large scale rallies in Jakarta last year, Rizieq Shihab, the notorious leader of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), is now being investigated by the West Java Police, an ironic turn of affairs.
For the last few months, Rizieq has been the loudest advocate for pushing blasphemy charges against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is currently seeking re-election in the Jakarta gubernatorial race. After Ahok was named a suspect in the case and later stood trial, Rizieq continued to strongly voice his animosity toward the governor, whom he repeatedly called a “religion mocker”.
The rallies also bolstered growing sectarianism in the country and somehow catapulted his notoriety to a higher level, generating concerns that Indonesia’s pluralism might be at risk.
However, Rizieq, who was twice sentenced to prison for inciting hatred in 2003 and 2008, has now toned down his voice as he is asking the National Police to help him mediate with the people who have filed police reports against him. He even visited the House of Representatives on Tuesday to report the issues he was facing.
Rizieq now faces public scrutiny as the police investigate five separate cases. These cases relate to Rizieq’s alleged blasphemy toward Christianity, insults to the State ideology Pancasila, comments over supposed communist symbols on Rupiah bank notes and hate speech.
Rizieq is seen by many as the initiator of the massive rallies under the banner of the National Movement to Safeguard the In- donesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI). The rallies attracted other conservative Islamic organizations and were joined by nearly half a million people in Jakarta. Now, however, it seems as though only his own group is coming to his defense.
In what appears to be a turn of events for Rizieq, hundreds of people from several non-governmental organizations in Bandung, West Java, voiced their displeasure of him on Thursday. An irony, as the province is notorious for its rampant intolerance from hard-line and conservative Islamic groups, which also participated in the Rizieq-led rallies.
The protestors called on the government to disband the FPI, arguing that the group had been actively involved in encouraging and supporting intolerant activities.
“This is a form of solidarity to show that we, the people of West Java, are peaceful and united against intolerance. We will fight any anti-Pancasila group,” Fauzan Rachman, the chairman of the Indonesian Grassroots Movement (GMBI), said during the rally.
One of the legal cases surrounding Rizieq presently being investigated by the West Java Police relates to an alleged insult to Pancasila, reported by the daughter of former president Sukarno, Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, in October last year. He was grilled by West Java Police investigators last week over his alleged speech that went viral on social media.
West Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Anton Charliyan said the police had upped the status from preliminary investigation to full investigation in the Pancasila case. His status is still that of a witness in the case, said National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Awi Setiyono on Thursday.
Adi Prayitno, an expert in political Islam from the State Islamic University (UIN), said Rizieq’s confidence grew too aggressively after the Jakarta rallies because he probably believed that the protesters would continue to follow him because of the success of the rallies.
“If Rizieq was named a suspect by the police then the move could dampen his dominance in the public sphere,” Adi told The Jakarta Post.
Rizieq and several key members of the FPI did not respond to the Post’s inquires. Novel Bamukmin, the secretary-general of the FPI Jakarta branch, refused to comment, saying that the Jakarta branch had no authority to comment on the central board.