Rizieq Shihab — the controversial leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who is living in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia — has seemingly become a political football in the reconciliation negotiations between President Joko Widodo and his defeated electoral rival Prabowo Subianto, with the Gerindra chief’s camp claiming that the firebrand cleric’s safe return is one of their conditions for joining the government.
But, based on the response by Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko, Rizieq’s homecoming won’t be part of any reconciliation deal as it was not the government that forced him to leave Indonesia.
“Who left and who’s going to bring him home? He left on his own, didn’t he? Why are there requests to accommodate him back home? We didn’t oust him, did we? Of course not,” Moeldoko said yesterday as quoted by Media Indonesia.
Rizieq fled Indonesia as a fugitive in April 2017 when he was named a suspect by the Jakarta Police in a pornography case. Police eventually dropped his suspect status in that case but there are several other criminal investigation about his actions, including charges of blasphemy against Christianity and state symbols, that could be reopened.
During his presidential campaign, Prabowo, on numerous occasions, promised Rizieq a safe and prosecution-free return to Indonesia if he were elected president and that he would personally be picking up the cleric with his private jet.
On Saturday, Prabowo campaign spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak said that Rizieq’s return to Indonesia was a major focus of reconciliation talks. Danhil also claimed, without evidence, that Jokowi’s administration had actually asked the Saudi government to keep Rizieq there.
Moeldoko dismissed that assertion and said Rizieq homecoming wasn’t the government’s responsibility. But he did say he’d foot the bill for the FPI leader’s airfare back to Indonesia.
“Just come home by yourself. If you don’t buy a ticket, I’ll buy one for you,” Moeldoko said jokingly.
Despite not having stepped foot in Indonesia for over two years, Rizieq remains a powerful and influential figure among supporters of politically active Islamist organizations such as FPI and Alumni 212, organizations that have accused Jokowi’s administration of “criminalizing” Rizieq and other ulema (Islamic scholars) on their side of the poltical spectrum.