Indonesia observed Pancasila Day yesterday, a day that celebrates the nation’s ideological principles, including the unity of its peoples regardless of race and religion. But the word that dominated local media was not pluralism but persekusi (persecution).
A disturbing video depicting a 15-year-old Jakartan of Chinese descent being physically harassed and threatened by people claiming to be members of the hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) went viral yesterday, drawing widespread condemnation of the FPI for allegedly abusing a minor.
In the video, a group of men are seen coercing the teen – who has his mother sitting right behind him – into apologizing for posting memes about FPI leader Rizieq Shihab that they said were insulting to Muslims. The men surrounded the teen, mocking, laughing and occasionally slapping and punching him, knocking the glasses off of his face at one point.
One man, who appeared to be the leader of the group, told the boy that he had insulted the Muslim community as Rizieq is not just the leader of the FPI, but a grand Imam for “millions of Muslims”. He warned the boy to tell his friends of the same ethnicity not to make fun of Rizieq and other Islamic scholars or they may face the same consequences.
The teen appeared shaken but stayed calm while enduring the mental and physical abuse from the group.
(Warning: this video below may be disturbing for some viewers)
According to reports, the teenager is a resident of Cipinang Muara, East Jakarta who had previously posted humorous memes about Rizieq Shihab, the FPI founder who was recently named a fugitive by the police after fleeing Indonesia to escape investigation into his pornography case.
The teen’s social media activity caught the attention of people at his school, and his teacher allegedly reported him to the neighborhood’s leaders. He was then forced to appear at the neighborhood chief’s office on May 28th, when he was co-erced to apologize to a group of people claiming to be FPI members, as depicted in the video.
After the video went viral yesterday, police swiftly arrested two FPI members suspected of being present during the incident, though the extent of their involvement in the abuse is not yet known.
“Two people were detained. M and U (the initials of the suspects) were taken to Jakarta Metro Police headquarters. M admitted that they intimidated the boy. He is FPI, so is the other one,” said East Jakarta Police Chief Andry Wibowo, as quoted by Merdeka.
The police are also going to question the neighborhood chief, who allegedly allowed the teen’s abuse to take place in his office.
The police later evacuated the boy and his family from their home over concerns about their safety, after they had previously been kicked out by their landlord following the incident.
‘Time to speak up’
Many condemned the FPI for essentially bullying a child over a couple of internet memes. GP Ansor, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), pledged to offer protection to the teen and help him heal from his trauma. They warned that these kinds of actions by groups like the FPI cannot be ignored.
“If ignored, they will be emboldened. If we ignore them, I can’t imagine what else they would do, these kinds of actions must be resisted,” said GP Ansor Chairman Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, as quoted by BBC Indonesia.
“Ansor is starting this movement (against FPI) with the hope that we can stimulate other majority groups to speak up, to reject actions like this by the FPI.”
Since Rizieq was named a criminal suspect for pornography on Monday, Southeast the Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) noted that there have been 55 cases of people being persecuted for allegedly insulting ulemas online (including the teen in the video). This also includes the recent case of a female Muslim doctor who was forced out of her town because she criticized Rizieq on Facebook.
The FPI said their members were only present during the teen’s apology to ensure that nobody took matters into their own hands and hurt the boy.
However, FPI Jakarta Secretary General Habib Novel of “Fitsa Hats” fame said that, despite not having seen the video of the teen’s abuse, the FPI will continue to go after those who insult Rizieq or other ulemas.
“We will not remain quiet, whoever it is, whatever their religion, their ethnicity, their tribe, if they insult Islam, insult ulemas, insult the Quran, then we will chase them wherever they go,” he told BBC Indonesia.
According to the latest reports, the teen is still under police protection, though his exact whereabouts are unknown. He is not the only teenager to receive protection from the authorities and NU from hardliners recently, as the same kind of protection also became necessary for a high school student named Afi Nihaya who received death threats for writing about tolerance and posting it on Facebook.