JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia has banned the controversial and politically influential hardline group of the Islamic Defenders Front, the security minister said on Wednesday.
Minister Mahfud said the group, known by the acronym FPI, has been banned with immediate effect.
« The government has banned FPI activities and will stop all activities carried out by FPI, » Mahfud said. “As an organization, the FPI no longer has any legal status. ”
The ban follows the return of the group’s figurehead, Rizieq Shihab, from three years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia in November, celebrated with events attended by thousands.
Rizieq’s return to the world’s largest Muslim majority country had raised concerns within the government that he might fish to harness opposition forces.
The 55-year-old minister was arrested this month and charged with violating health protocols. He remains in custody while a clash between police and his supporters, in which six of his bodyguards were shot, is being investigated by the national human rights organization.
Mahfud said the FPI was officially disbanded since June last year but continued to conduct illegal activities.
Six senior government officials, including the attorney general, the chief of police and the head of the counterterrorism agency, were involved in the decision to ban the group, he said.
Assistant Attorney General Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej said the FPI was banned because nearly 30 of its leaders, members and former members had been convicted of terrorism and because the group had come into conflict with the nation’s state ideology, Pancasila emphasizes unity and diversity.
Founded shortly after former strongman Suharto was overthrown in 1998, the FPI was known for raiding bars and brothels and intimidating religious minorities. It is also known for offering assistance in the event of natural disasters.
His political influence has increased in recent years, particularly after his role in protests in 2016 against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, who was jailed for insulting Islam.
The government viewed the demonstrations as one of the greatest threats to President Joko Widodo’s rule.
Dr. Ian Wilson, senior lecturer in political and security studies and research fellow at Murdoch University’s Asia Research Center, said the ban could prove counterproductive.
« The FPI’s ban will do little to mitigate the factors that led to 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.
Wilson said the decision should be seen in the context of recent political developments, including the purge of FPI members and sympathizers from the Indonesian Ulema Council.
« The government is on the offensive against what it sees as a potential location for popular Islamist opposition, compounded by Rizieq’s recent return, » he said.
Security analysts have suggested the ban could spark a backlash or force the FPI and its activities underground.
Senior FPI member Novel Bamukmin was defiant, telling Reuters the ban would do little to dampen sentiment.
“They can dissolve FPI, but they cannot dissolve our fight to defend the country and the religion. And if we want, we can declare a new Islamic mass organization this afternoon, ”he said
Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Martin Petty and
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Islamic Defenders Front, Indonesia, Muhammad Rizieq Shihab
World News – AU – Indonesia bans Islamic Defenders Front Group
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