Indonesia bans hard-line Islamic Defender’s Front group

Indonesia bans hard-line Islamic Defender’s Front group

The Associated Press

Indonesia has banned the controversial and influential hard-line group the Islamic Defender’s Front, the chief security minister announced in late December 2020.

Mahfud MD, minister for political, legal and security affairs, said the ban on the group, widely known by its abbreviation FPI, took effect immediately.

“The government has banned FPI activities and will stop any activities carried out by FPI,” Mahfud said. “The FPI no longer has legal standing as an organization.”

The ban follows the November 2020 return of the group’s spiritual figurehead, Rizieq Shihab, pictured, from three years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia, which was celebrated with events attended by thousands.

Rizieq’s return to the world’s largest Muslim-majority country had fueled concern within government that he could be angling to harness opposition forces.

The 55-year-old cleric was arrested in December 2020 and charged with violating health protocols. A clash between police and Rizieq’s supporters — in which six of his bodyguards were shot dead — is being investigated by the national human rights body.

Mahfud said the FPI had officially been disbanded since June 2019 but had continued unlawfully conducting activities.

Six senior government officials, including the attorney general, police chief and counter-terrorism agency head, were involved in the decision to ban the group, he said.

The deputy justice minister, Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, said the FPI was outlawed because nearly 30 of its leaders, members and former members had been convicted on terrorism charges, and because the group conflicted with the nation’s state ideology, Pancasila, which emphasizes unity and diversity.

Formed soon after the 1998 fall of former Indonesian strongman Suharto, the FPI was notorious for raiding bars and brothels and intimidating religious minorities. It is also known for offering assistance during natural disasters.

Its political sway has risen in recent years, particularly after its role in protests in 2016 against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, who was jailed for insulting Islam.

The government saw the demonstrations as one of the biggest threats to President Joko Widodo’s rule.

Dr. Ian Wilson, senior lecturer in politics and security studies and a research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, said the ban may prove counterproductive.

“Banning the FPI will do little to mitigate the factors that have driven its popularity as a social phenomenon and is likely to ‘radicalize’ some members and sympathizers,” he said.

The ban raised questions about enforcement and the implications for democratic expression in the world’s third-largest democracy, he said.

Wilson said the decision had to be viewed in the context of recent political developments, including the purging of FPI members and sympathizers from the Indonesia Ulema Council.

“The government is on the offensive against what they see as a potential locus of popular Islamist opposition, sharpened by the recent return of Rizieq,” he said.

“While having a sound legal foundation, the banning is clearly politically driven as well.”

Security analysts have suggested the ban could spark a backlash or force the FPI and its activities underground.