Hardline Indonesia cleric named a 'suspect' for insulting state ideology

The leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front, Habib Rizieq, speaks to journalists at police headquarters following his questioning by police in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan 23, 2017.
The leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front, Habib Rizieq, speaks to journalists at police headquarters following his questioning by police in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan 23, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian police have officially named a hardline cleric a suspect for allegedly insulting the state ideology Pancasila and defaming founding President Sukarno.

Habib Rizieq Shihab, chairman of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), has "met all elements of crime", West Java police spokesman Commissioner Yusri Yunus told reporters on Monday (Jan 30).

The accusation against the 51-year-old is centred around a two-minute long video showing him telling an audience that Mr Sukarno had written an earlier version of Pancasila - the national ideology which promotes diversity and democracy - did not prioritise belief in God.

He had previously been questioned by police for after police reports were made against him for comments deemed blasphemous under Indonesia's strict laws against insulting religion.

By naming him a suspect, police are saying they have a case against him and he could be charged in court.

Under Indonesia's Criminal Code, the firebrand cleric could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty of defaming the state ideology, and up to 4.5 months for defaming a deceased person.

The case is the first of at least five police reports lodged against Mr Rizieq, including one filed by a local Catholic group, which has accused him of making blasphemous comments about Jesus Christ.

Mr Rizieq has led the hardline FPI in three street rallies between October and December last year to protest against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, for allegedly insulting Islam.

Mr Rizieq had been jailed twice, first in 2003 for inciting his followers to violently harass nightspots in Jakarta, then in 2008 for attacking a minority group who was holding a vigil in the capital to rally against racial religious intolerance.

aarlina@sph.com.sg