Indonesia: Anti-Ahok radical preacher in legal hot water over porn charges
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Indonesia: Anti-Ahok radical preacher in legal hot water over porn charges

INDONESIAN police have officially named the leader of the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Habib Rizieq a suspect and issued an arrest warrant for charges under the country’s strict anti-pornography laws.

Rizieq, a key protagonist in the campaign against former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, now stands accused of exchanging explicit messages with a woman named Firza Husein, who is not his wife. Screenshots of their chat have gone viral on social media.

Police announced on Tuesday that they had issued an arrest warrant to his home in Central Jakarta, as reported by Tempo. Given Rizieq is overseas, allegedly in Saudi Arabia, police have also signalled their intention to issue an Interpol ‘red notice’ to have him deported and face the law in Indonesia.

Under the Indonesian anti-pornography bill, it is “forbidden to spread pornographic content”, with prosecutors able to hand down prison time of four years for possessing pornographic material.

Somewhat ironically, the FPI are staunch supporters of the pornography legislation and the imposition of strict, conservative Islamic norms in Jakarta and indeed across Indonesia.

SEE ALSO: After Jakarta showdown, hardliners say Bandung mayor is ‘the next Ahok’

Indonesia says no to pornography

Indonesia’s controversial anti-pornography bill was introduced in 2008. Initial incarnations of the law from 2005 to 2006 had sought to criminalise public kissing and women exposing ‘too much’ skin, for example, by wearing bikinis.

Then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), whose son Agus ran unsuccessfully against Ahok in this year’s Jakarta gubernatorial election, oversaw the introduction of the law. Introduced months out from an election, SBY had sought to curry favour with the marginal Islamist parties who drafted it.

Pornography is now defined by Indonesian law as: “pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, conversations, movements of the body … which contain obscenity or sexual exploitation which violates the moral norms in society.”

An unsuccessful challenge was lodged in the Constitutional Court by women’s rights and religious minority groups in 2010, who claimed the legislation was discriminatory, for example by potentially criminalising cultural practices like art and dance practiced by Hindus in Bali.

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A group of students performs the Fisherman mass dance during the opening ceremony of Badung Bahari Festival at Tanjung Benoa village in Badung, Bali resort island, May 19, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken May 19, 2017. Source: Reuters/Fikri Yusuf/Antara Foto

Jakarta’s hardline Habib

Ahok’s fall was profound: going from an almost assured win in February’s gubernatorial poll to finding himself in jail for blasphemy by May. Habib Rizieq can take much of the credit for that.

For years a fringe figure dismissed along with the FPI by most of the capital’s residents as troublemakers, his instrumental role in Ahok’s downfall has astonishingly projected him into the mainstream of politics and religious discourse.

A coalition of hardline groups spearheaded by Rizieq’s FPI – who have protested Ahok for being ethnically Chinese and Christian since being now-president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s running mate in Jakarta’s election in 2012 – seized on clumsy comments he made in September regarding the Quran.

Charged under Indonesia’s strict blasphemy laws, which like the anti-pornography legislation were strengthened under SBY, Ahok has now begun his sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

While they were hoping for the maximum sentence of five years, this is a huge victory for the FPI.

Formed in 1998, the organisation has made its name through imposing Islamic ‘morality’ through conducting raids on venues that serve alcohol, particularly in the lead up to Ramadan. The FPI also specialises in terrorising Indonesia’s already-marginalised gay and transgender communities.

Ironically, anti-pornography laws have been used to charge people in the arrests of LGBT community members after raids in Surabaya and then last week in Jakarta.

SEE ALSO: ‘Jakarta will be a religious city’, Indonesians told at prayer rally

What will come of the sexts?

Rizieq’s co-accused Firza was named as a suspect earlier in May after police officials confirmed her identity through facial recognition technology. She heads up the Solidaritas Sahabat Cendana Foundation, an organisation connected to the family of former dictator Suharto.

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Habib Rizieq’s co-accused Firza Husein arrives at a Jakarta police station this month. Source: Twitter @DuniaMedsos

Meanwhile, he reportedly remains in Saudi Arabia in supposed symbolic protest against “injustice.” He has a fantasy of returning to Indonesia in the same manner as Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran for the Islamic Revolution.

Rizieq has entered and re-entered the kingdom unusually quickly, sparking speculation that Saudi officials had granted him a special visa.  It would not be the first time Saudis have provided haven to a radical preacher fleeing Interpol arrest notices and judgement by their homeland’s justice system.

Last week, they reportedly granted citizenship to radical Indian preacher Zakir Naik, who is dodging arrest warrants from his home country for charges of terrorism and money laundering.

SEE ALSO: Xenophobia rears its ugly head on the streets of Jakarta

Rizieq has previously been named a suspect in various other cases, including in January being accused of insulting Indonesia’s pluralist, democratic state ideology of Pancasila.

He has previously mocked Pancasila as becoming “panca-gila” (gila meaning crazy) – the very same joke that led to a major diplomatic tiff with Australia in which military cooperation was suspended.

FPI devotees routinely accuse Indonesian authorities of fabricating legal problems to bring down the group’s leaders. They claim he has become the “victim of bullies.”

This week, the Polri cybercrime unit arrested a 23-year-old man for posting a fake screenshot of supposed texts between Polri Chief Tito Karnavian and Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono conspiring to engineer the sex scandal, as well as spreading hate speech via his Instagram account.

One would be audacious to predict the outcome of these cases. But Rizieq’s sexting scandal certainly poses some sticky questions for Jakarta’s conservative Muslims.