Police block planned anti-Ahok rally in Jakarta

Members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI) march to police headquarters during a protest in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan 23, 2017.
Members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI) march to police headquarters during a protest in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan 23, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Spokesman for group behind protests faces probe for allegedly insulting Hindus in Bali

The tables appear to have turned against Front Pembela Islam (FPI), the hardline Muslim group that has been leading street protests against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over allegations that he insulted Islam.

Not only have the police announced that they had banned the group from holding another rally in the capital this Saturday, but they also declared FPI spokesman Munarman a suspect for allegedly insulting Hindus in Bali.

The latter move comes after several groups on the Hindu-majority resort island filed complaints against Mr Munarman last month.

National police spokesman Martinus Sitompul confirmed yesterday that preliminary investigations in Bali involved 26 witnesses.

He said a summons letter and an investigation order were sent to Mr Munarman at the FPI headquarters in Jakarta, and added that Mr Munarman must report for questioning by Bali police tomorrow.

Police did not reveal details of the complaints, but according to local news reports, Mr Munarman had allegedly accused local Hindu officials, known as pecalang, of preventing Muslims in Bali from performing their Friday prayers.

The case against Mr Munarman follows a high-profile investigation against FPI leader Rizieq Shibab, who faces multiple charges of insulting the national ideology of Pancasila as well as Christians, making hate speech and spreading pornography.

The cleric has been the fiercest critic of Basuki, who is now standing trial for blasphemy as a result of pressure from groups like the FPI. The Chinese Christian politician, better known as Ahok, is currently running for re-election.

Mr Rizieq, using his influence at the FPI and the National Fatwa Guardians of the Indonesian Ulema Council (GNPF-MUI), played a major role in all three anti-Ahok protests last year, when thousands turned up to rally against Basuki.

A fourth protest on Saturday - just four days before seven million Jakarta voters head to the polls - has been canned by the city's police.

The FPI also mobilised hundreds of its members to gather outside Basuki's blasphemy hearings each week to call for his arrest and removal from office.

But the support for such anti-Ahok activities has waned following a fresh probe against Mr Rizieq.

The latest case revolves around racy WhatsApp chats, purportedly between Mr Rizieq and Ms Firza Husein, leader of an organisation that reveres former president Suharto.

The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that the crowd protesting outside the Agriculture Ministry, where the trial against Basuki is being held, has thinned substantially.

According to the Post, the FPI protesters no longer occupy two lanes on the road outside the ministry, unlike during earlier hearings.

Mr Rizieq has been feeling the heat from the multiple police investigations against him.

The cleric was a no-show at a scheduled interview on Tuesday with West Java police in Bandung.

His lawyer, Mr Kiagus Muhammad Choiri, said that Mr Rizieq was not fit for questioning because of fatigue.

West Java police spokesman Yusri Yunus yesterday said a second summons has been issued to Mr Rizieq to report for questioning tomorrow. "We hope he shows up," he added.

Meanwhile, GNPF-MUI leader Bachtiar Nasir yesterday ignored a police summons to report for questioning in connection with how the anti-Ahok rally on Dec 2 was funded.

A group of at least 11 political activists was rounded up by the police just hours before the rally, over a conspiracy to incite the protesters to oust the government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline 'Police block planned anti-Ahok rally'. Print Edition | Subscribe