Indonesia: Islamist Cleric Behind Christian Governor Arrest Accused of Violating Pornography Laws

Indonesian firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab (front) prepares to take his seat in court to testify in the blasphemy trial of Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (background 2nd R), also known as 'Ahok', in Jakarta on February 28, 2017. Jakarta's Christian governor is currently standing trial for blasphemy as he …
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On Monday, Islamist cleric Habib Rizieq was accused of exchanging nude photos and graphic messages with a woman, in violation of Indonesia’s strict anti-pornography laws. Rizieq has been accused of other criminally insensitive acts, including insulting the national ideology of Pancasila.

Rizieq happens to have been a leader in the movement to oust Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese and Christian governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is currently serving a two-year sentence for blasphemy against Islam. Ahok is a longtime friend and ally of Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, a moderate Muslim looking to push back against the rising Islamist tide in his country.

Rizieq’s lawyer accused Ahok supporters of fabricating the pornography charges against the imam, while a spokesman for his Islamic Defenders Forum (FPI) insisted the “unfounded” legal complaint was “engineered to criminalize the clerics.”

“The police need to investigate who really produced and distributed that transcript,” said Novel Bamukmin, head of FBI’s Jakarta chapter, as quoted by Reuters.

The woman involved in what the Jakarta Post describes as “steamy WhatsApp chats” with Rizieq is Firza Husein, an activist who has been implicated in a plot against the Widodo government. The police reportedly employed facial recognition software and other biometric methods to establish her identity as the nude woman who appeared in chat messages to Rizieq, who is married.

In December, the Indonesian Catholic Students Association filed a police report accusing Rizieq of offending the religious beliefs of Christians, which would be a violation of the same law that put Ahok in jail. Rizieq was accused of giving this offense in remarks he made in a speech delivered on Christmas Day, in which he mocked the birth of Christ.

Rizieq has also been accused of making hurtful remarks about Sudanese culture, defaming various individuals (including Indonesia’s first president Sukarno) and trespassing.

As for the offense against Pancasila, it stems from the same 2011 speech that prompted former President Sukarno’s daughter to press charges against Rizieq for insulting her father. Rizieq said Sukarno’s ideology “placed divinity in the posterior part.”

Pancasila is a secular political ideology that is theoretically compatible with any of the monotheistic religions worshiped in the country (its first principle is “belief in the one and only God,” a statement also written into the Indonesian constitution). Rizieq was essentially accusing Pancasila of trivializing Islam. The Indonesian government is very sensitive to slights against the official state ideology, from either citizens or foreigners.


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