Jakarta. Acting Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama says he wants to dissolve the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front after its violent protest last week against his ascent to the governor’s post over the fact that he is a Christian.
The group, known as the FPI, is notorious for their anti-alcohol and anti-night club raids, especially during Ramadan. They believe Jakarta, with a moderate Muslim majority population, should not be led by Basuki, because he is also Chinese-Indonesian.
Basuki is set to assume the governor post as the outgoing governor, Joko Widodo, will be inaugurated as Indonesia’s seventh president on Oct. 20 following his election win.
The FPI has been staging rallies against Basuki since he and Joko took office in 2012.
On Friday of last week, though, their rally in front of City Hall turned violent as members of the organization hurled stones at police officers in an attempt to break through the gate, injuring at least 16 officers. As many as 21 members of the FPI have been arrested over the incident.
On Monday, Basuki says he would look for a way to dissolve the FPI, adding that it would be quite tricky given that the group, as an organization, has no official permit.
“This is funny. How should we dissolve them when they don’t even have a licence [to cancel]? We’ll have to look into how we can dissolve them,” Basuki said.
“But my principle is, every civil organization engaging in anarchy and attempting to scrap the Constitution and Pancasila [Indonesia’s five founding principles] should be removed from this country.”
Golkar Party lawmaker Nurul Arifin threw her support behind Basuki.
“There is nothing wrong with Ahok’s nascent to the governor’s post,” Nurul said on Monday, referring to Basuki by his popular nickname. “Don’t use ethnicity, religion and racial bigotry to attack someone. It will instead spur antipathy toward the group [conducting the racist campaign].”
But fellow Golkar politician Hajriyanto Y. Thohari disagreed with Nurul, saying protests like the FPI’s were a normal occurrence in a democracy and should not be handled “dramatically.”
He cited as an example how in the United States, there was resistance against President Barack Obama after he was rumored to be a Muslim.
“A small group of Americans rejected Obama based on a rumor that he’s a Muslim,” Hajriyanto said. “So if a small group of Jakartans reject Ahok, there’s no need for dramatization. Ahok will still be inaugurated as the Jakarta governor, won’t he?
“Just listen to the FPI’s ideas, there is no need to do as they demand,” Hajriyanto, the Golkar politician, said.
“The majority of Jakartans like Ahok’s performance. Although it is better that he better controls his speech,” he added, referring to Basuki’s known outspokenness, especially when dealing with irregularities within the Jakarta bureaucracy.
This outspokenness, though, has been interpreted by the FPI as arrogance, which has lead to FPI members calling Basuki an “arrogant infidel.”
Aunur Rofiq of the United Development Party (PPP) also came to the defense of the FPI, saying every Indonesian citizen had the right to express his opinion.
“That’s why all leaders must act in the interest of the people, to improve the people’s welfare, not to build their personal reputation,” Aunur said.
Surprisingly, a member of Basuki’s former party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), said the FPI had actually often coordinated with the party before staging protests against Basuki — who resigned from Gerindra last month. He stepped down in protest against its move to cancel direct elections of regional leaders through a new law passed by the House of Representatives last month.
Fajar Sidik, the secretary of the Jakarta chapter of Gerindra, though, denied any involvement by the party in Friday’s violent protest.
“Usually they coordinate with us before their rallies,” Fajar told Indonesian news portal Merdeka.com on Friday. “I don’t know about this one [Friday’s protest], though. What organization actually took part in the protest? I’m confused as to why it ended in chaos.”
“I suspect this is an expression of disappointment towards Ahok. [Rallies] we agree on usually don’t end in violence.”
Wanted: protest coordinator
Police said 21 members of the FPI arrested during Friday’s violent protest were currently suspects, including four minors.
An estimated 1,000 FPI members took part in the protest.
“We’re also conducting legal proceedings against the four [minors], but we’re not detaining them. We’re only detaining the adults,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said.
He added that the police will be charging the suspects with offenses including the use of sharp weapons, attacking officers, destroying property and assault.
“They’re facing more than five years in prison,” he said.
Rikwanto added that police are still searching for the protest coordinator, identified as Habib Novel Bamu’min.
“We’re still looking for Habib N.,” Rikwano said. “We hope he will hand himself in, otherwise we will keep searching.”
Rikwanto further said police were still investigating the motives behind the FPI’s “brutal” attack on police officers.
“They had prepared rocks, there were dozens of sacks containing rocks in their cars. There were also sacks containing cow dung, bamboo, wooden sicks and swords. We’ve seized all of those,” he said.
“We’re still investigating how this happened. Why did they so brutally attack police members? Why did they all come to Jakarta to stage the rally?” he added.
Observers have lauded the arrests, saying it could restore public trust in law enforcement. They cited a lack of assertive action against groups like the FPI by law enforcement for years.
Despite being notorious for unlawful raids against “sinful” activities, the FPI has largely been left untouched legally by the government and law enforcement.
“[The police’s] latest action deserves appreciation, and is expected to help the National Police restore public trust in themselves. The police have for a long time been considered powerless against anarchic, intolerant groups who disrupt public order,” Hendardi, the chairman of rights group Setara Institute, said in a press statement on Monday.
“And we will support any legal action taken against criminal offenders.”
Hendardi, though, urges police not to stop at low-ranking FPI members.
“To anticipate [similar incidents in the future], police must also pursue intellectual actors behind resistance against Ahok becoming the Jakarta governor,” he said.
University of Indonesia political analyst Arbi Sanit also encouraged police to take firm action against the FPI.
“Violence-ridden politics is not democracy. It is not right to use violence in rallies; it’s against the Constitution and if it keeps being done, it will disrupt security and traffic,” Arbi said. “The civil group [FPI] is not even an organization officially, so officers must take firm actions against them.”
To the public, Arbi told them to ignore the FPI’s calls against Basuki.
“Organizations staging such rallies, like the FPI, represent only minority Muslim extremism. There’s no need to listen to them. They ... don’t represent the majority of Jakartans. If they’re the majority, then we’ll see, they should win in the next [Jakarta] gubernatorial election in 2017,” he added.
The demonstration by the FPI outside City Hall and the legislative council complex in Kebon Sirih, Central Jakarta, turned violent on Friday and police refused to back down against the protesters, who tried to break police lines and push farther into the grounds of the council.
A line of police behind riot shields crept forward toward the rock-throwing protesters in a measured attempt to not escalate the volatile situation.
Many officers suffered head injuries from projectiles thrown by the mob, who were shouting “God is great.”
Police later fired tear gas into the crowd to break up the protest.
Also last month, some 300 FPI protesters gathered outside the council and shouted at Ahok: “Get out, get out. We will drag you out of Jakarta if you ever become our governor. Never let an infidel be our leader,” AFP reported.
The FPI gained international notoriety in 2012 when it issued a death threat to pop star Lady Gaga, forcing the singer to cancel a concert in Jakarta. Some members were also responsible for the death of a woman in Kendal, Central Java, last year during a raid in Ramadan.
FPI members struck the woman down while she fled a protest against establishments serving alcoholic beverages.
In an FPI attack against representatives of the Interfaith National Alliance for Freedom of Faith and Religion at the base of the National Monument (Monas) in June 2008, dozens were injured.
The FPI are also responsible for the forced closure of an Ahmadiyah mosque in West Java in October last year, after threatening to burn it down.
The government has repeatedly given the FPI final warnings — most unambiguously after the Kendal tragedy, but the group has been able to operate throughout Indonesia unfettered regardless.
Many have slammed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s reluctance to confront the organization, suggesting that he and his government have chosen to coddle it.
Last year, for instance, the former religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, now a graft suspect, praised the FPI as an important “national asset” when he made a keynote speech at the FPI’s annual congress in Jakarta.