At least four airlines have announced that passengers with tickets for today’s departure from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport can reschedule or refund their flights for free, as they are likely to be affected by traffic congestions brought about by Rizieq Shihab’s homecoming.
The four airlines are Batik Air, Citilink, Garuda Indonesia, and Lion Air, as confirmed in a statement released by airport management firm PT Angkasa Pura II today. The policy was issued following traffic adjustments within the area, as thousands of Rizieq Shihab supporters flocked to the airport to welcome the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader home.
“The airline policy is a precautionary measure so that passengers can continue their travel at a different time,” the firm’s spokesman Haerul Anwar said in the statement.
Passengers are expected to contact their respective airline representatives or customer service to make adjustments to their flights.
Rizieq has finally returned to Indonesia, ending his self-imposed exile of more than three years in Saudi Arabia.
As scheduled, the firebrand cleric touched down in Tangerang’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 8:30am on a flight from the Saudi capital of Jeddah. He’s expected to head straight to his residence in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, which is also the stronghold of the hardline Islamic group that he founded.
At around 9:50am, Rizieq emerged from Soekarno-Hatta’s Terminal 3 and greeted his supporters from his open top car, screaming “Allahuakbar” (God is great). The crowd then echoed Rizieq, and the situation reportedly almost got out of control as they pushed each other to get closer to him.
Police reported that the supporters parked their cars on the toll road leading to Soekarno-Hatta before heading to the airport on foot, causing near-total congestion in the area since the early hours of this morning.
Police have put up road closures from the airport to Petamburan in anticipation of Rizieq’s trip home. He has previously said that he and his family would rest for a few days after arriving in the capital.
Rizieq fled Indonesia as a fugitive in April 2017 when he was named a suspect by the Jakarta Police in a pornography case. Police eventually dropped his suspect status in that case but there are several other criminal investigations about his actions, including charges of blasphemy against Christianity and state symbols, that could be reopened.
Rizieq made a promise to return to Indonesia on seven different occasions, finally making good on his word today. He and his supporters previously blamed the government and Saudi authorities for putting up administrative obstacles for his homecoming.
The Indonesian Embassy in Saudi said that Rizieq was due for deportation for overstaying his visa, which expired in July 2018, and that Saudi authorities had refused to issue an extension. The embassy also said that Rizieq’s return coincided with Saudi waiving overstay fines amid the pandemic, which, in Rizieq’s case, would’ve been around IDR23 billion (US$1.6 million). Rizieq denied that he had any legal issues with the Saudi government.