Protest march in Jakarta against police probe of Muslim hardline leader

ST VIDEO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA & FRANCIS CHAN
Members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders' Front, and other Muslim hardline groups, gathering at the Al-Azhar mosque for a street march to protest against the police for investigating FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab.
Members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders' Front, and other Muslim hardline groups, gathering at the Al-Azhar mosque for a street march to protest against the police for investigating FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab.ST PHOTO: FRANCIS CHAN, WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
Members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders' Front, and other Muslim hardline groups, gathering at the Al-Azhar mosque for a street march to protest against the police for investigating FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab.
Members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders' Front, and other Muslim hardline groups, gathering at the Al-Azhar mosque for a street march to protest against the police for investigating FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab.ST PHOTO: FRANCIS CHAN, WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

JAKARTA - About 2,000 members of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders' Front, and other Muslim hardline groups marched in protest against the police on Monday (Jan 23)  for investigating FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab.

The 51-year-old cleric, or ulama, reported to the Jakarta police headquarters on Monday for questioning over multiple allegations of blasphemy and defaming Indonesia's national symbols.

The protesters marched from Al-Azhar mosque to the police headquarters in support of Mr Rizieq, who gained notoriety recently for leading a series of street protests against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama last year.

Mr Asep Syarifudin, who heads the Islamic Movement Alliance at Al-Azhar mosque, was one of the earliest to arrive at the mosque for the rally and the 2.5-km street march.

"Stop criminalisation against ulamas," he told The Straits Times when asked why he was protesting against the police. "We will support ulamas that are criminalised by anyone and we won't let anyone criminalise ulamas."

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told The Straits Times that some 2,000 people took part in the protest march. Small groups of protesters, including some from outside of Jakarta, started appearing at Al-Azhar mosque as early as 1am on Monday.  

It has been widely speculated in recent days that the police and prosecutors will officially declare Mr Rizieq a suspect and tender charges against him.

This comes after West Java prosecutors announced that they will also be interviewing Mr Rizieq. The involvement of prosecutors in interrogations typically signal a finalisation of indictments against a suspect, said lawyers.

Mr Rizieq, who is FPI chairman, had led three street rallies between October and December last year to protest against governor Basuki, popularly known as Ahok, for allegedly insulting Islam.

But Mr Rizieq now faces similar charge as well as a case of defammation that revolves around a two-minute long video that showed him telling an audience that Indonesia's founding President Sukarno had written an earlier version of Pancasila - the national ideology which promotes diversity and democracy - that did not prioritise belief in God.

The case is the first of at least five police reports lodged against Mr Rizieq. One of them was filed by a local Catholic group accusing the firebrand cleric of making blasphemous comments about Jesus Christ.

Last week, police interrogated Mr Rizieq for more than six hours for defaming Pancasila and Mr Sukarno.

Meanwhile, the case against Mr Basuki is now the subject of a court hearing, which resumes on Tuesday, even as the governor continues to campaign for re-election.