Hardline Indonesian cleric faces sex chat allegations

Mr Rizieq arriving at the Jakarta police headquarters on Jan 23. The Islamic Defenders' Front chairman had been jailed twice previously - in 2003 for inciting his followers to violently harass people at nightspots in Jakarta, and in 2008 for attackin
Mr Rizieq arriving at the Jakarta police headquarters on Jan 23. The Islamic Defenders' Front chairman had been jailed twice previously - in 2003 for inciting his followers to violently harass people at nightspots in Jakarta, and in 2008 for attacking a minority group holding a vigil in the capital.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Latest case adds to claims against him for allegedly insulting state ideology and Sukarno

Indonesian hardline cleric Rizieq Shihab, put on the defensive for allegedly insulting the state ideology and founding President Sukarno, is now confronted with another challenge as police investigate allegations of his online sex chats.

The fresh allegations were filed by a group of students on Monday, after screen grabs of the intimate WhatsApp exchanges purportedly between the 51-year-old cleric and Ms Firza Husein, along with nude photographs resembling her, went viral on social media.

Ms Firza, a mother of one, is the chairman of the Cendana Friend Solidarity Movement, an organisation that reveres former president Suharto.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told The Straits Times yesterday that experts are investigating the authenticity of the materials before summoning the alleged individuals for questioning.

Those involved in the production or dissemination of the materials can be charged with violating the country's anti-pornography as well as Information and Electronic Transaction laws, he added.

"Investigators are now examining the content and materials of the people featured and will question them later. But the experts will first have to prove whether the materials and exchanges are fake or real," Senior Commissioner Argo said.

  • List of accusations

  • Islamic Defenders' Front chairman Rizieq Shihab has been reported by the public to the authorities for:

    • Insulting Pancasila, the national ideology that promotes diversity and democracy.

    • Defaming founding President Sukarno by saying he had written an earlier version of Pancasila that did not prioritise belief in God.

    • Blaspheming Christianity by mocking the birth of Jesus Christ.

    • Claiming the new rupiah banknotes feature a concealed hammer and sickle logo of the long-disbanded Indonesian Communist Party.

    • Making hate speech and destroying religious harmony in Indonesia.

The case is the latest in a string of accusations lodged to the police against the chairman of hardline group Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), from blasphemy to hate speech to insulting state symbols.

The West Java police on Monday had named him as a suspect for defaming the national ideology of Pancasila and Mr Sukarno, taking him a step closer to being tried in court. The case is centred on his alleged remark to an audience that Mr Sukarno had written an earlier version of Pancasila that did not prioritise a belief in God.

Mr Rizieq had been jailed twice previously - in 2003 for inciting his followers to violently harass people at nightspots in Jakarta, and in 2008 for attacking a minority group holding a vigil in the capital.

He rose to prominence in recent times after leading the FPI in three mass rallies between October and December last year, to protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, for allegedly insulting Islam. But ongoing police probes have seen the tables turned on the preacher.

Today, the police are expected to question him and two other Muslim leaders with regard to a meeting they had attended with former lawmaker Sri Bintang Pamungkas and several others, who were arrested over an alleged plot to topple the government.

FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif told The Straits Times that "all these are lies", adding: "There are indications that there is a global movement to silence us."

But analysts told The Straits Times it was not an attempt to muzzle critics, but simply the country's legal system taking its course.

"He calls himself an imam and feels that he is untouchable. But in fact, he is no hero but a loser. He wants to judge others but he himself is a lot of trouble," said Mr Zuhairi Miswari, an intellectual from Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences analyst Siti Zuhro said: "Everybody is equal before the law, whether it's Ahok or Rizieq. There's no need for a defence mechanism. There's law enforcement and fairness."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Hardline cleric faces sex chat allegations'. Print Edition | Subscribe