JAKARTA - Supporters of Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara staged protests in Jakarta and Medan, North Sumatra, on Friday (May 20) against Singapore's recent move to deny him entry over his history of extremist teachings.
In Medan, about 250 of the preacher's supporters first gathered at Medan Grand Mosque before marching to the Forum Nine office building, where Singapore's Consulate-General is located.
Several of them held placards that read: "Expel Singapore Ambassador", "Boycott Singapore products", "Singapore Villain's Lair", "Singapore is Malay land, not Chinese property", and "Singapore nasty and disgusting".
The protest was organised by the Alliance of North Sumatra Islamic Mass Organisations, which represents various Islamic groups across the province.
Somad was born in North Sumatra and lives in Pekanbaru, the capital of neighbouring Riau province, where he spends much of his time when not travelling.
In a 45-second video posted on Twitter, a protester could be seen speaking through a loudspeaker and pointing out Somad's popularity beyond Indonesia.
"He is welcomed in Malaysia. He is welcomed in Brunei. He is welcomed in South-east Asian countries. But, a country named Singapore expels and refuses him without any specific reason. God is great," he shouted to the crowd.
In response to media queries, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) noted in a statement the demonstrations in the vicinity of the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta and the Consulate-General in Medan, and that Indonesian law enforcement personnel were deployed to maintain safety and security.
"The Singapore Government is closely monitoring the situation at our overseas missions in Indonesia,” the statement said.
"The demonstrations were held in response to the refusal of entry into Singapore of Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara on May 16, 2022. The Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore had issued a statement on May 17, 2022, setting out Singapore’s position on the matter.
"A visitor’s entry into Singapore is neither automatic nor a right. Each case is assessed on its own merits.
"The Singapore Government takes a serious view of any persons who advocate violence and/or espouse extremist and segregationist teachings," the MFA spokesman said.
Medan police chief Valentino Alfa Tatareda told The Straits Times on Saturday that 900 police officers were deployed to maintain security during the event. "The situation was safe," he said.
He added that representatives of the protesters, along with cleric Hasan Matsum, chief of the Medan chapter of the Indonesia Ulema Council, managed to meet the Singapore Consul-General Richard Grosse in Medan, at the request of the demonstrators.
In Jakarta, a crowd of around 50 men and women, with some holding banners, held a protest in front of the Singapore Embassy amid heavy rain.
One of their banners read: "Stop Islamophobia. Singapore apologise within 2x24 hours to the Indonesian people. Don't harass our ulema." Ulema refers to a Muslim scholar.
Police commander Agung Permana, head of the Setiabudi sub-precinct police station, said on Friday that the organiser, Islamic Union for Ideology Defence (Perisai) got police approval to hold the protest prior to the event.
Between 50 and 100 police officers were deployed to guard the protest, he added.
"There is no traffic diversion because there are not many protesters," he was quoted as saying by Kompas.com.
Singapore denied entry to Somad and six of his travel companions soon after they arrived from Batam on Monday.
On his Instagram account, the preacher posted a photo and a short clip of himself at his holding area in Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
In its response to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore's query on the matter, Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said the reason for the refusal was due to Somad "being ineligible for the issue of a pass under current immigration policies".
Although he is one of Indonesia's most widely followed preachers, Somad has also been criticised by Indonesians, including mainstream Muslim leaders, for comments he has made denigrating other faiths. Several of them have also welcomed Singapore's decision to bar him from entering the Republic.
After Singapore refused him entry, Indonesian media reports said he has been denied entry to Hong Kong, Timor Leste, and several European countries in the past.
Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday that Indonesia acknowledges the sovereignty of every country to implement its immigration rules and exercise its rights to accept or deny entry to foreigners.
In an interview with Karni Ilyas Club YouTube channel on Wednesday, Somad said he would not be deterred from trying to visit Singapore, as it was Malay land which was connected to his homeland, Riau.
"If I say I am deterred from visiting Singapore, it's similar to saying that I'm deterred from visiting Minangkabau, because Singapore is Malay land," he said, adding that he has relatives living in Singapore.
"We, the people of Riau, consider Singapore part of our land," he added.