Fugitive FPI leader Rizieq Shihab tops Google’s list of the top trending public figures in Indonesia in 2017

FPI founder Rizieq Shihab. Illustration: @dpp_fpi / Instagram
FPI founder Rizieq Shihab. Illustration: @dpp_fpi / Instagram

Google recently released its Year in Search 2017 lists, showing the top unique terms that people entered into the digital giant’s search engine this year. The various 2017 lists for Indonesia contain a lot of unique insights but for this article we’ll focus on their list of the top trending tokoh (public figures) of the year.

Screencap: Google Year in Search 2017

Coming in at the top of the list is a man little-known outside of Indonesia but infamous and admired in nearly equal measures within the archipelago. Rizieq Shihab (referred to on the list as Habib Rizieq – ‘Habib’ being an honorific commonly used to refer to Islamic scholars from the Sayyid community, or descendants of Prophet Muhammad, which Rizieq claims to be) is both the founder and current spiritual leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) as well as a fugitive from Indonesian justice, allegedly hiding in Saudi Arabia after being charged as a suspect in a high-profile (and highly ironic) pornography case by the Jakarta Police.

Why was Rizieq, the leader of an organization that has been described as a band of rent-a-thugs in Islamic robes, so frequently searched for this year, even more so than celebrities like national politicians like President Joko Widodo (#4) or recently inaugurated Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan (#5)?

Those of you who are familiar with the firebrand cleric’s history will know that he has been a blight on Indonesia for many years, almost since he founded FPI in the wake of Suharto’s downfall in 1998. But while he’s made plenty of headlines in years past with his crusades against the likes of Playboy and Lady Gaga, it was only late in 2016 and this year that he rose to national political prominence as the figurehead of the movement to criminalize and imprison former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama on highly-politicized blasphemy allegations.

READ: ‘The Porno Passion of Rizieq: The Islamic Defenders Front, Playboy and Poetic Justice’

Rizieq’s crusade gained the acclaim of Islamists around the country who wanted to prevent Ahok, a Christian of Chinese ancestry, from leading the capital once again. As the figurehead at the forefront of the massive anti-Ahok protests in Jakarta, he quickly become a household name throughout Indonesia.

But there’s no doubt that the real reason searches for Rizieq went into overdrive in 2017 is due to his pornography scandal, which first surfaced towards the beginning of the year when a site appeared online alleging to contain leaking materials documenting the FPI leader’s adulterous affair with one of his followers, including explicit sexts from the woman in question.

While the authenticity of the leaked documents were heatedly debated by Rizieq’s detractors and followers, police turned it into a criminal matter under the purview of Indonesia’s strict pornography laws and eventually named Rizieq a suspect for helping to “produce” the materials.

Rizieq fled Indonesia shortly before he was officially named a suspect and has refused to return to the country to face the charges ever since, though he has broadcast several messages to his followers, including his latest, played at the one year anniversary of the 212 anti-Ahok rally on December 2 in which he called for his followers to fight for the “Sharia state of Indonesia” and in which his followers named him the high priest of the Indonesian people (a completely made up position BTW).

Coming in second on this year’s trendling list is Novel Baswedan, an investigator from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) who had acid splashed in his face by unknown attackers in April (police have still not named any suspects in the case). He was investigating the enormous electronic ID card corruption case that most recently (and finally) ensnared House Speaker Setya Novanto as a suspect.

In third is Anniesa Hasibuan, who was once most famous as a fashion designer but become infamous this year due to her other role as the owner and director of PT First Anugerah Karya Wisata, or First Travel. Along with her husband Andika Surachman, the president director of the company, Anniesa has been named a suspect for her alleged role in First Travel’s defrauding of thousands of Indonesians who had purchased cheap umrah pilgrimage travel packages to Mecca through the company.


President Joko Widodo’s position in 4th place is unsurprising given his well demonstrated social media savviness. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan showing up in 5th place is also not much of a surprise given the huge amount of attention given to the controversial Jakarta gubernatorial race this year. We don’t have any prediction yet for who may appear on next year’s trending figure list, but wouldn’t be surprised if both Jokowi and Anies both make the cut once again.


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