FPI leader Rizieq Shihab suspected of having been given special ‘invitational’ visa by Saudi Arabian government

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

The leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Rizieq Shihab, is still in Saudi Arabia in order to avoid questioning by the Indonesian police related to a pornography case stemming from leaked documents alleging an adulterous affair between the hardline group leader and a woman named Firza Husein. According to his own lawyers, Rizieq traveled to Saudi Arabia to undergo the Umrah pilgrimage several weeks ago before leaving for Malaysia to work on a doctoral thesis and then returning to Saudi Arabia, yet again, supposedly to undergo the Umrah pilgrimage, yet again.

Many have questioned how Rizieq was able to travel to Saudi Arabia twice in such a short amount of time, given the strict visa limitations usually faced by Indonesians who wish to travel to the country for religious pilgrimages, with most having to wait many years to get visas to undergo Hajj or at least a couple of weeks to get visas for Umrah..

Asked about this discrepancy, the head of public relations for the General Directorate of Immigration at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Agung Sampurno, could not say with certainty how Rizieq was able to enter Saudi Arabia twice in such a short amount of time, but speculated that it was most likely that he had been issued a special “invitational” visa by the Saudi Arabian government.

“So related to the visa used by [Rizieq], it would, of course, be determined by the [Saudi]  embassy. We cannot see which visa he was given,” Agung told CNN Indonesia.

Agung said that if Rizieq was granted an Umrah visa, the visa might differ from the visas obtained by the general public, which are always single entry and only allow pilgrims to stay for 30 days (Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visas to the general public either).

Agung also confirmed that Saudi Arabia has special “invitational” visas which can only be issued from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s central government, which might allow for multiple entries.

However, Agung said only the Embassy of Saudi Arabia could offer an official answer as to what visa Rizieq was using to enter the country.

Given the unusual circumstances of his travels to Saudi Arabia and the visa limitations on foreigners, it seems reasonable to suspect that Rizieq has been given one of these invitational visas by the Saudi government.

But why would Saudi Arabia grant Rizieq such an exceptional visa?

We don’t want to speculate on something that’s not even certain, but… on a completely unrelated note, here’s a very brief CV of Rizieq Shihab:  

  • He got his undergraduate degree at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia
  • Through the FPI he’s helped spread and popularize a hardline interpretation of Islam, in line with the doctrine of Wahhabism officially upheld by Saudi Arabia, within Indonesia
  • Most recently, he was instrumental in getting former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama jailed for blasphemy and, in so doing, legitimizing a controversial interpretation of the Quran in which Muslims are not allowed to vote for non-Muslim leaders.

Rizieq’s lawyers have recently indicated that he might return to Indonesia after the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan (in contradiction to earlier statements that he might not return until President Joko Widodo was no longer in office) but most recently his supporters (the so-called “alumni” of the 212 anti-Ahok rally) have demanded that the police guarantee Rizieq’s safety when he returns and end the “criminalization of the ulemas”, which they claim is being orchestrated by the government as revenge for Ahok’s loss and jail sentence.

On Wednesday, The National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), the hardliner umbrella group that organized the anti-Ahok rallies, claimed they knew the identity of the people behind the “engineering” of the leaked documents about Rizieq’s alleged sex scandal, specifically Indonesian bloggers Denny Siregar and Philips Joeng. Police are still investigating the validity of their allegations.

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