The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the most notorious of Indonesia’s Islamist civil society groups (locally referred to as ormas or mass organizations) has violently attacked or threatened groups ranging from teenagers that have criticized them online to religious pluralists and elderly survivors of the country’s brutal anti-Communist purge. Over the weekend, the group added attendees at a children’s birthday party in Pamekasan in Madura, East Java, to the list of their targets.
A group of men belonging to the Islamic Defender Troops (LPI), the para-military arm of FPI, conducted a vigilante patrol (or “sweep” as they call it) in Pamekasan’s Ponteh Village over reports that a house in the neighborhood was being used to facilitate prostitution.
According to local residents, the self-appointed moral police, weapons in hand, unlawfully went door-to-door searching houses and ended up targeting a home where a children’s birthday was taking place.
“At the time of the incident, there was a child’s birthday party taking place at the home. Suddenly a group of people dressed in white came and grabbed some of the women who had come to take their children to the party,” said Agus Aini, a resident of the neighborhood, told CNN Indonesia on Sunday.
Agus said that this quickly led to a fight between the LPI members and residents trying to defend the mothers. He said he was injured during the incident and many of the children were traumatized by the violence.
Local police said that five residents of the neighborhood were injured in the clash and that they were currently investigating the incident and collected evidence including weapons, car windows smashed and even chili powder reportedly used as a weapon by the vigilantes. Although they condemned LPI’s actions, they have apparently not made any arrests related to the case.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Commander of LPI Madura, Abd Aziz Muhammad Syahid, said the sweep was carried out as an effort to practice the teachings of Islam. He claimed that his organization had asked the police to crack down on prostitution in the area, but claimed their request had been ignored.
The FPI has become increasingly influential in politics in recent years since the organization helped organize and fuel the protests against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja” Purnama that ultimately led to his election defeat and imprisonment. The group is known for regularly engaging in vigilante sweeps looking for those violating Islamic sharia law, but they have often been accused of being a rent-a-thug funded largely through “protection money”.