FPI Leader Rizieq's Alleged Involvement in Porn Scandal an 'Odd Conspiracy'

Firebrand cleric Habib Rizieq in action in this file photo. (Antara Photo/Reno Esnir)

By : Dames Alexander Sinaga | on 11:04 PM July 11, 2017
Category : News, Featured, Human Rights

Jakarta. Human rights advocates and experts alike expressed concerns over the ongoing pornography case surrounding Rizieq Shihab, the firebrand cleric leading the Islamic Defenders' Front, or FPI.

Law enforcement officials have been criticized by many for their failure to prosecute the cleric on charges of hate speech and religious intolerance and have instead pursued peripheral charges against the religious leader.

As head of FPI, Rizieq previously led "Shariah patrols" on nightclubs, bars and entertainment venues across Jakarta in the name of Islam, harassing patrons and at times inciting violence.

Most recently, Rizieq and FPI members from across the country took part in a series of rallies in the capital to call for the ouster and arrest of then-Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama for lighthearted comments the city chief made about a verse in the Koran.

Since last year, however, Rizieq has been implicated in a pornography scandal where he allegedly exchanged lewd photographs with a female follower, named Firza Husein, through messaging platform WhatsApp. Those acts would violate the country's strict anti-pornography law, though Rizieq has skipped every police summons regarding the case.

The firebrand cleric is reportedly in Saudi Arabia after traveling there in April to perform the umrah, or mini pilgrimage to Mecca. There has been no official word from either Rizieq or his legal team on why he still remains in the Gulf kingdom three months after his initial departure.

Porn Law? Not Good Enough

Usman Hamid, Indonesian country director for the UK-based rights group Amnesty International, believes pursuing pornography charges against Rizieq misses an opportunity to punish the cleric for hate speech.

"Despite the current political turmoil in Indonesia, Rizieq’s pornography case has perfectly resembled the polemic of such draconian law. The law itself is deemed controversial due to the obscurity of the legal provision, which later allows multi-interpretations, and thus, may be misused to arbitrarily criminalize people," Usman told the Jakarta Globe via email on Saturday (08/07).

Usman said the public should remind the government that the Pornography Law, No. 44/2008, provides only a broad definition of pornography, and it is not clear that prosecutor's charges will stick in court.

"We have to call for a revision [of the law] to ensure that it is fully consistent with Indonesia’s international human rights obligations," he said.

Usman said Amnesty International previously published a report, titled "Left Without A Choice: Barriers to Reproductive Health in Indonesia," that criticized the country's pornography law.

Jakarta Police earlier said sufficient evidence was collected to name Rizieq a suspect in the case, however lawyers representing Rizieq said any investigation into a pornography case allegedly involving the leader should be terminated due to "invalid evidence," implying the police obtained material illegally through unauthorized wiretapping.

Usman emphasized that the pornography case was the least relevant or appropriate charges that could be filed against Rizieq.

"Even though the police obtained evidence from unknown sources, the chat itself is a personal domain that did no harm to public interests," he said.

Usman said pursuing criminal charges against Rizieq relative to the pornography law could potentially breach the cleric's personal liberty and freedom of expression as outlined in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a member.

"Of course, it does not mean we can also tolerate when the FPI uses their force to make other citizens comply with their ideology in the form of sweeping or any form of violence. It is the same with the hate speech that Rizieq has conducted on many occasions," Usman said.

In recent months, FPI members reportedly threatened and abused netizens for posting damaging opinions about the firebrand cleric on social media, including a case of a 15-year-old student in East Jakarta who was beaten by Rizieq followers.

East Jakarta Police arrested two people for their alleged involvement in the intimidation and assault of a 15-year-old student over a social media post he made, which they considered to be insulting of firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Lingga) East Jakarta Police arrested two people for their alleged involvement in the intimidation and assault of a 15-year-old student over a social media post he made, which they considered to be insulting of firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Odd Conspiracy

Meanwhile, Ian Wilson, a lecturer in politics and security studies and a research fellow at Murdoch University’s Asia Research Center in Perth, Australia, said the allegations against Rizieq are seen by serious FPI members as an odd conspiracy against their sacred religious leader.

Wilson, well known for his research on the political economy of gangs, political violence and organized crime in Indonesia, said FPI followers believe that law enforcement officials are bending existing law to criminalize their leader.

"[FPI members] cannot believe it is possible that [Rizieq] could have done and said the things he has been accused of doing," Wilson said. "Many of his believers strongly feel that he is of a high moral fiber."

"The main issue here I think is the basis in which the [authorities] are trying to pursue [...] Rizieq," he added.

"And I think it is ironic on one level that [the authorities] are using a law that in fact the FPI and the other very conservative groups pushed very hard to have enacted – the porn law," he said.

In January, West Java Police named Rizieq a suspect for allegedly insulting Pancasila during a speech he made in 2011, in which he said "[former President] Sukarno's Pancasila values had placed divinity in the posterior part."

The police report against Rizieq was filed by Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, one of Sukarno's daughters, on Oct. 27 last year.

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