Firebrand cleric Habib Bahar bin Smith, who has recently been the subject of huge controversy after he made sexist, racist and transphobic remarks about President Joko Widodo, was arrested yesterday by the West Java Police for physically assaulting two minors, aged 17 and 18.
According to the police, Smith assaulted the underage victims in Bogor regency on Dec 1. Video footage of the assault has gone viral and is being used as evidence against Smith, showing him striking the boys, including using his knee, while they looked like they were being forced to take the beating and unable to retaliate.
The beating, which took place at a pesantren (religious boarding school) run by Smith, was reportedly punishment for the boys for supposedly impersonating Smith and his friend a few days prior. Smith was charged with violation of the Child Protection Act and could face five to 12 years in prison. Five accomplices of Smith have also been arrested in relation to the assault.
While an official complaint for the assault was lodged to the police on Dec 5, the police say they decided to detain Smith after interrogating him yesterday because they had reason to believe that he had plans to run away as he has been using a fake name.
“Based on the information gathered by the team [of investigators], he was no longer using communication devices and had been going by the name Rizal,” National Police Spokesperson Brigadier General Dedi Prasetyo said today, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.
Smith, 33, is the founder of a hardline group called the Prophet’s Defender Council. The group has been in the news numerous times over the years for conducting raids and forcing the closure of entertainment spots during Ramadan, as well as attacking minority religious groups.
Earlier this month, Smith was named a suspect for defaming the president through very troubling remarks he made about Indonesia’s head of state in a sermon, though he wasn’t placed under police custody then because the charges made against him would amount to less than five years’ imprisonment.
In front of a congregation, Smith said Jokowi was “banci” (a derogatory Indonesian term for transgender) and that if his pants were pulled down one might see that he was having his period.
He also said that “The Chinese, westerners, foreign companies are the ones who are prospering. We pribumi (a loosely-defined term for native Indonesians) in Indonesia are slaves in our own country,” which is what the charge of racial and ethnic hate speech is based on.
After he was reported to the police, Smith refused to apologize and said he would rather “rot in prison”.