Indonesia names Islamist cleric as suspect in porn case

Habib Rizieq talking to reporters outside a court after the blasphemy trial of Jakarta's outgoing governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the Indonesian capital in February.
Habib Rizieq talking to reporters outside a court after the blasphemy trial of Jakarta's outgoing governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the Indonesian capital in February.PHOTO: REUTERS

Leader who helped organise rallies against outgoing Jakarta governor faces legal threat

JAKARTA • Indonesian police yesterday named an Islamist leader as a suspect in the exchange of pornographic messages and photographs, a new legal threat to a cleric who helped organise mass Muslim rallies against Jakarta's outgoing Christian governor.

Habib Rizieq, a firebrand cleric who heads the hardline Islamic Defenders Forum (FPI), has also been made a suspect in a separate investigation over allegations he insulted the secular state ideology in the Muslim-majority nation.

President Joko Widodo appears to be taking a tougher stance against fundamentalism and has said he would not tolerate any individuals or organisations that undermine the secular state ideology Pancasila, or threaten Indonesia's tradition of pluralism.

Religious and political tensions have soared in the last six months with Islamist-led rallies targeting Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian who was jailed this month after a blasphemy trial.

The government recently moved to disband Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that calls for a state based on syariah and also backed the protests against Basuki, an ally of Mr Joko.

Rizieq, who has spent years preaching conservative Islamic values, is accused of violating Indonesia's strict anti-pornography laws by exchanging graphic messages and nude pictures with a woman.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono confirmed Rizieq had been made a suspect, meaning the case is likely to go to court. "The main crime is participating in and transmitting pornographic content," he said in a text message.

Rizieq's lawyer Sugitmo Atmo Pawiro denied the allegations, saying they had been fabricated by supporters of Basuki.

Rizieq is currently overseas after flying to Malaysia and then to Saudi Arabia. He has not returned to Indonesia despite repeated summons for questioning by police.

His lawyer denied the cleric had fled the country because of his legal troubles.

An FPI spokesman said the legal complaints against Rizieq were "unfounded". "This has all been engineered to criminalise the clerics,"said Mr Novel Bamukmin, head of the FPI's Jakarta chapter. "The police need to investigate who really produced and distributed that transcript," he said.

Rizieq served prison terms in 2003 and 2008 for violence and disrupting public order.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia names Islamist cleric as suspect in porn case'. Print Edition | Subscribe