FPI leader Rizieq Shihab will return to Indonesia if Prabowo wins: spokesman

FILE PHOTO: Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto meeting with Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) founder Rizieq Shihab in Mecca in June 2018. Photo: Instagram
FILE PHOTO: Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto meeting with Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) founder Rizieq Shihab in Mecca in June 2018. Photo: Instagram

Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesia’s most infamous hardliner organization, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), played a pivotal role in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race but has had little impact on the 2019 presidential campaign thus far, his influence greatly limited by the fact that he remains in (largely self-imposed) exile in Saudi Arabia.

But should President Joko Widodo’s election rival, Prabowo Subianto, emerge victorious in April’s election, Rizieq Shihab is planning to return to Indonesia, presumably to promote his agenda of intolerance and hatred once more.

That’s according to the chairman of the Habib Rizieq Shihab (HRS) Center, Abdul Chair Ramadan, who said that the country’s current administration made it difficult for the FPI leader to return to the country unless there was a change of leadership.

“[Rizieq Shihab] said that if Prabowo won, he would go home,” Abdul said at the Prabowo-Sandiaga National Secretariat office in Jakarta yesterday as quoted by Katadata.

Abdul, who had previously been running as a member of the Islam-based Crescent Star Party (PBB) but withdrew after PBB recently decided to join Jokowi’s coalition, said that the current administration had unjustly “criminalized” Rizieq as well as numerous other opposition figures such as Ahmad Dhani and Buni Yani using the controversial Law on Information and Electronic Transactions (UU ITE).

Unlike those other figures, who have already been sentenced for spreading hate speech under UU ITE, Rizieq’s legal status is a little more complicated. The FPI head fled the country around the time he was named a suspect in a high profile (and highly ironic) pornography case involving an alleged affair between him and one of his married followers, a case he claims was engineered to frame him.

However, the Jakarta Police officially dropped Rizieq’s suspect status in that case in June, alleviating the risk that authorities would be waiting to arrest him at the airport should he return to Indonesia. On the other hand, there are still several other open cases against the FPI head that could potentially move forward, including one accusation regarding his conspiratorial claim that the country’s new currency contained hidden communist imagery, a potential violation of laws protecting state symbols.

Rizieq was the figurehead at the forefront of the mass protests against Basuki “BTP” Tjahaja Purnama (the former Jakarta governor formerly known as “Ahok”) ahead of the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race, stoking anger over the heavily politicized and trumped up charges that BTP had insulted Islam. The protests proved instrumental in defeating BTP and getting him a 2-year prison sentence for blasphemy.

Prabowo went to Mecca to help earn Rizieq’s endorsement and promised to allow the FPI leader to safely return to Indonesia should he win. However, Prabowo has done little else to appease him, such as ignoring the running mates recommended by a hardliner cleric council in favor of picking businessman Sandiaga Uno.

Nonetheless, Rizieq continues to push for Prabowo’s presidency, telling his supporters that if you want LGBT banned and ‘pribumi’ (a controversial term for “native” Indonesians) to be prosperous, they should vote Prabowo-Sandiaga.

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