Islamist faces blasphemy charges 

Islamic Defenders Front condemns Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama last October. Source: YouTube

Indonesian police will prohibit a rally in Jakarta next month led by the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) on the grounds that it would be too political just days before an election for city governor that has raised religious tension.

The FPI has led two major protests over the past year condemning Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese-Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, which drew hundreds of thousands of Muslims calling for his imprisonment over allegations that he insulted the Koran.

The FPI leader, Habib Rizieq, is now suspected of insulting Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila, which enshrines religious diversity in what is supposed to be a secular country.

Rizieq, who is not being held in custody, could face a jail term of four years and nine months if found guilty.

Jakarta police chief Mochamad Iriawan told the media that the FPI’s plan for another rally on February 11, four days before the Jakarta gubernatorial elections, would be too political  and had been prohibited. 

“The end of the campaign period should not be disrupted by the planned protest,” Iriawan told Reuters.

“If the context is as they said on social media, ‘we should vote for a Muslim person as our leader’, it looks like a political campaign.”

Last year’s ferocious marches raised fears among investors that Islamist militancy, ethnic intolerance and mob rule were dominating Jakarta’s politics. 

The singling out of Rizieq as a suspect reinforces moves made by the authorities to take a harder stance to contain the FPI and other radical Islamic groups.

Ahok was charged with blasphemy on November 16, days after the first major FPI protest and is on trial. He denies the allegations.

Rizieq also faces blasphemy and hate speech allegations, including remarks by him that communist iconography had been hidden in new Indonesian banknotes and for ridiculing the idea that Jesus was the son of God.

FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif said the group membership would defend Rizieq “until the last drop of our blood”.

Tobias Basuki, a political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said Indonesia’s religious and Pancasila blasphemy laws were being abused.

“These blasphemy laws are being used against pretty well anyone for anything,” Basuki said. “Frankly, they are just politically motivated plays but they are creating a big mess for Indonesia.”

“These are just concepts and we are repressing the potential for healthy debate. Meanwhile, very little is done to stop actual hate speech which threatens lives.”