Gerindra Chairman Prabowo Subianto has, on numerous occasions, promised Rizieq Shihab — the founder of the controversial hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who is currently living in exile in Saudi Arabia after being charged in an infamous pornography case — a safe and prosecution-free return to Indonesia. But now the presidential candidate has gone one step further by saying he would personally pick up the firebrand cleric from Saudi and bring him home if he’s elected president.
“One day after I’m elected, I will pick up Habib Rizieq. I will pick him up on my private plane,” Prabowo said in a speech in front of hundreds of students at a religious school in Pamekasan Regency, East Java yesterday, as quoted by Kompas.
“That is my promise if I’m elected.”
Furthermore, Prabowo said he would drop the charges against religious scholars who have been “criminalized and persecuted” under the current administration, without going into specifics as to who those scholars might be.
High-profile Islamic scholars affiliated with the opposition who have come under police investigation recently include Habib Bahar bin Smith, who was arrested in December for assaulting minors and filming it, as well as 212 movement leader Slamet Maarif, who was charged with illegal campaigning but had those charges dropped after police said they were unable to establish his criminal intent.
Rizieq is currently still in Saudi Arabia, where he has spent more than a year hiding from Indonesian law enforcement. Although police dropped his suspect status in the infamous pornography case that first led him to flee and stay out of his country, the FPI leader still has numerous legal cases at various stages pending against him including charges of blasphemy against Christianity and state symbols.
Many thought that President Joko Widodo’s choice of Ma’ruf Amin, the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the person who signed the blasphemy fatwa against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “BTP” Tjahaja Purnama, would make voter mobilization via Islamic hardliners an unviable strategy for Prabowo. While that remains to be seen, obviously Prabowo believes it’s still worth cozying up to these groups.
And to be fair, even the ruling PDI-P party of President Jokowi made overtures in that direction, with one party official even going so far as to say they would be willing to accept Rizieq’s support for the incumbent with Ma’ruf acting as a bridge (after already taking in Rizieq’s lawyer into their ranks).
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