Jakarta arrests hardline Muslim leader for treason

A conservative Muslim leader has been arrested for treason, a day before he was set to lead a protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Forum of Muslims (FUI) secretary-general Muhammad Al Khaththath and four others were rounded up in raids starting on Thursday night, said Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

Colonel Argo said the chief of the hardline group and the rest, identified by initials, are being held for questioning. He declined to give more details. But he confirmed that the case is not linked to the people arrested last year for plans to destabilise the government by escalating a protest on Dec 2 organised by Muslim hardliners against Basuki, who has been charged with blasphemy. "Investigators are still looking into the case, we will announce the results once the probe is complete," he added.

A rally was organised after prayers at the Istiqlal grand mosque in Jakarta yesterday by the FUI chief, to demand the arrest of Basuki for insulting Islam. But the turnout was substantially smaller than that for previous protests.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto said representatives from the protesters wanted to meet President Joko Widodo to convey their demands. But Mr Wiranto was asked to meet them instead.

He said the protesters told him they wanted Basuki, who is better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, to be expelled.

"We talked intensively, tried to clarify things with respect for each other," said Mr Wiranto, a former general.

Muslim Brotherhood chairman Usamah Hisyam told reporters after the same meeting that he had demanded the release of Muhammad Al Khaththath.

"I have confidence there was no act of makar," he said, using the Bahasa Indonesia word for treason.

Yesterday's rally was the fifth against Ahok since last October.

Basuki is running for re-election while standing trial for blasphemy, but that did not stop him from leading with 42.9 per cent of the votes in the first round of the gubernatorial elections in February.

He will face former education and culture minister Anies Baswedan, who won 40 per cent of the votes in February, in a run-off election on April 19.

The police yesterday also said they had summoned former president Suharto's son Tommy for questioning in connection with the arrest of Ms Firza Husein. The latter is the chief of the Cendana Friend Solidarity Movement, a group that reveres the late president, and a key suspect in the Dec 2 conspiracy to topple the government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta arrests hardline Muslim leader for treason'. Print Edition | Subscribe