Home Affairs Ministry reviewing Islamic Defender Front’s permit renewal after it expired on June 20

Members of the Islamic Defenders Front during a protest against Myanmar in September 2017. Photo: FPI / Facebook
Members of the Islamic Defenders Front during a protest against Myanmar in September 2017. Photo: FPI / Facebook

Technically, Indonesia’s infamous hardline group the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) should no longer exist as a civil society organization (referred to in Indonesia as “mass organizations” or ormas for short) after its permit expired on June 20.

However, FPI’s legal status is still very much in the air with the Home Affairs Ministry, which issues the ormas permit, so far not committing one way or the other in regards to the group’s renewal.

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo chose not delve into specifics when asked about the matter today.

“The info is that there has been [an application for permit renewal],” he said, as quoted by Kompas.

Tjahjo added that the application is currently being reviewed, with the main consideration being whether or not FPI is committed to upholding the values of the Unitary State of Indonesia (NKRI) and its Pancasila founding principles, which upholds tolerance among many other values.

“Whatever we decide, there will be pros and cons,” he said.

The issue of FPI’s permit renewal was hotly discussed last month when an online petition was launched urging the Home Affairs Ministry to not extend the group’s ormas permit. That petition has over 480.000 signatures as of today, while a counter petition expressing support for FPI has 198,000 signatures.

Supporters of FPI frequently point to the militant group’s propensity for providing humanitarian aid to natural disaster victims and argue they were among the first to aid in relief efforts after the 2004 Aceh tsunami (we’d note that other organizations with questionable ethics, such as the Japanese Yakuza, also engage in similar disaster relief efforts).

However, critics of the hardline Islamist group maintain that FPI, above all, threatens religious tolerance in Indonesia through their radical actions such as carrying out violent vigilante raids on minorities, threatening Lady Gaga into canceling her Jakarta concert and leading the protest movement against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama that led to his imprisonment — the last of which saw the group gain far greater clout and political influence in recent years.

Were FPI to ultimately be disbanded by the government, it wouldn’t be the first time a hardline Islamist organization was dissolved under President Joko Widodo’s administration. In 2017, the president’s administration unilaterally banned the radical group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), arguing that doing so was necessary to maintain the country’s security and pluralist ideologies — particularly as HTI’s aim was to establish an Islamic caliphate and the organization had been linked to numerous terrorist attacks throughout Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2016 bomb attack in Jakarta.

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