Rizieq Shihab, the founder of Indonesia’s infamous Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), has been living in Saudi Arabia for over a year now due to numerous legal problems he faces in his home country. On top of his difficulties in returning to Indonesia (something he hopes presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto can help him with), Rizieq’s followers have revealed that the firebrand cleric was barred by Saudi Arabian authorities from traveling to Malaysia.
Yesterday, several representatives of FPI as well as the National Movement to Guard the Ulama Fatwa (GNPF) — a prominent hardliner affiliated political group — met with Deputy House Speaker Fadli Zon, a member of Prabowo’s Gerindra party, to ask for help about what they characterized as “intimidation” towards Rizieq by Saudi Arabian authorities.
According to GNPF representative Nasrulloh Nasution, Rizieq tried to obtain a visa to fly to Malaysia in July to complete the doctoral dissertation he had been working on at Universitas Sains Islam Malaysia. However, his request was denied without reason and further follow-up inquiries with officials did not yield any answers.
“This discriminatory and intimidating treatment should not be experienced by Indonesian citizens abroad. Because Indonesian citizens abroad are also guaranteed legal protection without exception,” Nasrulloh said as quoted by Detik.
It’s never exactly been clear on what legal basis Rizieq has been staying in Saudi Arabia, as he is not a Saudi citizen and it is extremely difficult for most Indonesians to even get short-term visas to enter the country for religious reasons like the hajj pilgrimage. His associates have claimed that he has a special “invitational” visa and that his expenses in the country were even being paid for by the Saudi government.
It is also not clear if he has left Saudi Arabia at any point since he first went into hiding there in May 2017 after he was named a suspect by the Jakarta Police in a high profile pornography investigation (which has since been shut down, though he still has several other cases pending against him).
Nasrulloh said he and other GNPF officials believe there are parties that masterminded Rizieq’s travel ban in order to prevent him from returning to Indonesia and said the parliament, the police and the foreign ministry should investigate.
The reference to “parties” preventing Rizieq from coming home is no doubt an allusion to hardliner conspiracy theories about President Jokowi’s administration’s unfair criminalization of Rizieq aimed at preventing him from influencing the 2019 presidential election as he did the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race. In fact, officials from Jokowi’s political party, PDI-P, have even said they would welcome Rizieq’s support should he choose to come back to Indonesia.
Former Trump fanboy Fadli Zon said that he would bring it up with House Commission II (of which he is a member) to investigate the matter further, noting that it was odd that Saudi Arabia would try to keep Rizieq inside the country when usually the problem was Indonesians being deported from the country.
We think it’s odd that anybody would want to prevent Rizieq from leaving their country either. And his followers have made so many false or misleading statements about him in the past that it’s hard to know if what they’re saying here is true. However, it’s also hard to imagine FPI affiliated hardliners speaking badly of the Saudi government otherwise, so who knows.
Whatever forces are working to keep Rizieq out of Indonesia, those of us hoping for an election season free of divisive political attacks against minorities can only hope those forces keep working.