Rizieq Shihab, the infamous leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), says that he wants to leave Saudi Arabia — where he has lived for more than two years after fleeing pornography charges in Indonesia — but claims the Indonesian government is somehow blocking his return to his homeland.
While addressing members of the Islamist organization via a pre-recorded video at an event celebrating FPI’s 21st anniversary in Jakarta on Saturday, Rizieq accused President Joko Widodo’s administration of pressuring Saudi Arabia into preventing him and his family from leaving the country until after Jokowi’s second-term inauguration in October.
“I ask with the utmost sincerity and hope, please pray for my family who has struggled for one year to lift my ban in Saudi Arabia so that I may soon return home to rejoin the Indonesian people in the fight against all forms of injustice and deception,” Rizieq said in the video, which was also published to Front TV, FPI’s official Youtube Channel
Rizieq claims in the video that efforts by Indonesian intelligence officials had caused the Saudi Arabian government to say that he had overstayed his visa for over one year.
“Due to the rotten intelligence game of the Indonesian government, my status is now that I have overstayed because my visa expired over a year ago. Even now, the Indonesian regime is still trying to ask the Saudi Arabian government to block me until the upcoming inauguration of the illegal president in October,” Rizieq said, adding, “Yes, I said that the next president who will be appointed in October 2019 is an illegal president who won as a result of fraudulent and vicious elections.”
Rizieq and FPI had given their support to presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who was pronounced the loser of April’s presidential election after losing a protracted legal battle over his campaign’s claims that Jokowi’s administration had engaged in systemic voter fraud and electoral manipulation. Prabowo had previously stated that after he won the election he would personally go to Saudi Arabia to pick Rizieq up and return him to Indonesia.
The FPI leader also claimed in the video that the only reason the Saudi government was blocking him from leaving the country was “maintaining bilateral relations between Indonesia-Saudi” and that the block was a form of revenge over his role in organizing the massive, highly-politicized protests against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for Ahok’s alleged blasphemy.
This is not the first time Rizieq and his followers have claimed that Jokowi’s administration has somehow orchestrated his confinement to Saudi Arabia. Such accusations were also made in September of last year after Saudi authorities brought Rizieq in for questioning. The Indonesian embassy in Saudi Arabia dismissed the conspiracy theory and stated that Rizieq was simply being investigated for overstaying his visa (despite Rizieq’s earlier claim that he had been given a special “invitational” visa from the Saudi government).
A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Teuku Faizasyah, responded to Rizieq’s latest allegations by saying, “I do not know what Pak Rizieq is talking about.” as quoted by Detik. Teuku went on to ask that Rizieq provide some evidence for the allegations he is making.
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto was much blunter in his dismissal of Rizieq’s allegations, saying that the FPI leader’s issues with the Saudi government were exclusively due to his visa overstay and that the government had done nothing to prevent him from returning to Indonesia, referring to Rizieq’s claims as “fabricated”.
Rizieq has been in Saudi Arabia since September 2017 after fleeing from Indonesia when police named him a suspect in a hugely embarrassing and ironic pornography case. Police later dropped his suspect status in that case but Rizieq still has several other unresolved cases against him, leading to his previous claims that he would not return to Indonesia while President Joko Widodo and his government continued to “criminalize” him and other ulema (Islamic scholars).
All of this comes amidst a time of existential uncertainty for FPI. During an interview with the Associated Press last month, President Jokowi he would consider banning the Islamist organization and any others that threaten the nation’s unity. Administration officials have backed up the president’s authority to enact the ban, with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu saying that the decision whether to extend the group’s official permit, which expired in June, was now totally in Jokowi’s hands. The group’s previous application to have their permit extended was rejected in July but they were offered the chance to reapply.