FPI leader Rizieq Shihab considered a ‘political fugitive’ in Saudi Arabia, will extend visa: lawyer

FPI leader Rizieq Shihab speaking with students in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Photo: @dpp_fpi / Instagram
FPI leader Rizieq Shihab speaking with students in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Photo: @dpp_fpi / Instagram

Rizieq Shihab, founder of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and suspect in a high-profile (and highly embarrassing) pornography case, is currently hiding out in Saudi Arabia to stay out of the reach of Indonesian authorities. According to the firebrand cleric’s lawyer, Saudi authorities support him taking refuge in their country and will allow him to extend his visa (with the possibility he might not return to Indonesia until 2018 or even later).

“He is considered a political fugitive [by Saudi Arabia] because he is considered to be defending religion,” said Sugito Atmo Prawiro, a member of Rizieq legal team, as quoted by Kompas today.

Sugito said the people near him in Saudi Arabia were appreciative of his efforts, and he had many friends in the country since he graduated from King Saud University.

According to his lawyer, Rizieq decided not to return to Indonesia on June 17, as he had previously mentioned, and would instead extend his visa, which Sugito said could be done through the invitation of the Saudi government.

Rizieq supposedly entered Saudi Arabia, twice within the span of a month, on Umrah pilgrimage visas (which regular Indonesians usually have to wait weeks, if not months to get). Pilgrimage visas cannot be extended except for visiting family within the country or special request by the Saudi government. Rizieq has no family in Saudi Arabia.

The FPI chief and his lawyers insist that the pornography case against him was engineered by senior government officials and is part of a conspiracy to “criminalize the ulema” (Islamic scholars).

Police insist no such criminalization plot exists and that the case against Rizieq is real and backed up by expert verified evidence. However, a hearing between police investigations and the attorney general’s office today to review the evidence against Firza Hussein, the other suspect in the case and the women that Rizieq allegedly had an adulterous affair with, resulted in the prosecution saying the police did not yet have all the evidence necessary to send the case to court.

Rizieq and his supporters have argued that President Joko Widodo and other high-level politicians are trying to frame him as revenge for his role in the protests against and jailing of former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy. The FPI chief and his hardliner organization were also instrumental in passing the illiberal pornography law that Rizieq has now been charged with.

The Jakarta Police have requested that Interpol release a red notice allowing for Rizieq’s detainment and extradition abroad, and it is not clear if the Saudi Arabian government would honor the red notice or, as his lawyers suggest, give Rizieq what amounts to political asylum in defiance of the Indonesian government.

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