Indonesia bans hardline Islamic Defenders Front group

The group, widely known by its acronym FPI, had been officially outlawed. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - The Indonesian government has outlawed the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) group notorious for its raids on bars and hotels during the Ramadan fasting month and attacks on entertainment venues.

Indonesia's chief security minister Mahfud MD said on Wednesday (Dec 30) that the controversial group has been officially outlawed with immediate effect.

The Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Minister said in a live streamed news conference: "The government has banned FPI activities and will halt any activities held by FPI because it no longer has legal standing both as a mass organisation and a regular organisation.

"If an organisation acts on behalf of FPI, it must be considered as non-existent and rejected due to the absence of the legal standing starting from today."

The FPI has been automatically disbanded after its permit expired on June 20, 2019, but it has continued to carry out violent acts and other controversial activities.

Apart from its so-called "sweeping operations" against bars, brothels and entertainment venues, FPI members has also carried out violent assaults against minorities, such as Ahmadiyahs and Christians.

Though controversial, the group and its leader Rizieq Shihab are influential among conservative Muslims in Indonesia.

Newly-appointed Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej on Wednesday called on the public not to get involved in any FPI activities and the use of its attributes and symbols.

"The public … (is called) to report each of any such activities and actions to the law enforcers," he said.

Mr Edward, who is also a criminal law expert, noted that 35 FPI members and former members had been involved in terrorism, of which 29 were found guilty of committing the crime.

Apart from that another 206 had carried out other criminal actions, and 100 of them were punished, he added.

A senior government official said this month that former members of the disbanded Muslim hardline group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) in West Java are being wooed to join the FPI, and attend army-like training for young recruits to become paramilitary troops.

The HTI, which called for strict Islamic laws in Indonesia and wanted to unify all Muslims into a caliphate, was outlawed in mid-2017.

FPI leader Rizieq, 55, returned to Indonesia last month (November) after spending more than three years in Saudi Arabia in self-exile, with thousands of his supporters thronging Indonesia's main airport in Tangerang, Banten province, to welcome his return.

Police earlier this month killed six of his bodyguards as they followed Rizieq in a vehicle convoy. Police said these men illegally possessed firearms and tried to attack the officers outside Jakarta on Dec 7.

Rizieq had left for Saudi Arabia in 2017 after the authorities started investigations into his insult of Indonesia's secular state ideology, Pancasila, and breaching pornography laws, after a purported steamy exchange with a supporter that included naked images of a woman circulated online.

Both investigations were dropped a year later.

The public has long called for the disbandment of the FPI through petitions, citing the division in society it has caused and religious-related violence, among other reasons.

One petition in May 2019 was signed by more than 400,000 people requesting the Home Ministry not to extend the permit of the organisation, which expired on June 20 last year.

The FPI was founded in 1998 after the fall of Indonesia's 32-year dictatorship under Suharto.

In 2016, the firebrand preacher Rizieq led a massive sectarian movement against then-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok.

Ahok, a Chinese-Christian politician, lost in the 2017 gubernatorial election against Dr Anies Baswedan, the current Jakarta governor, and was later convicted of blasphemy against Islam, resulting in a two-jail term.

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