Indonesian Govt Backs Prosecution of Police Who Shot Hardline Cleric’s Followers

Tia Asmara
Jakarta
2021-01-14
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Indonesian Govt Backs Prosecution of Police Who Shot Hardline Cleric’s Followers Supporters of Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islam Defenders Front, display a flag bearing his image during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.
[AP]

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has backed recommendations of Indonesia’s human rights commission to bring charges against police officers who shot dead six members of an Islamic vigilante group last month, his senior security minister said Thursday.

An investigation by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) found evidence of rights violations in the killing of four of the six men who were travelling in a motorcade with the leader of the now-disbanded Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, on Dec. 7, according to its chairman, Ahmad Taufan Damanik.

“We recommend that this case be brought to a criminal court, to prove what we deem to be unlawful killing,” Taufan told reporters after meeting Jokowi to submit a full report on the results of its investigation.

The coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mohammad Mahfud MD, said that Jokowi had demanded that the recommendations be followed through.

“The conclusion after my lengthy meeting with the president is that … nothing should be hidden and that the incident should be revealed in a criminal court,” he told reporters.

An altercation

The shooting occurred less than a month after Rizieq returned from three years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia, receiving a hero’s welcome from thousands of his supporters who gathered at the airport to welcome him on Nov. 10 and packed subsequent events where he was present.

Authorities sacked two regional police chiefs, and summoned Rizieq for questioning, for violating or failing to enforce COVID-19 restrictions as Indonesia grapples with the worst coronavirus caseload and highest COVID-19 death toll in Southeast Asia.

Early on Dec. 7, Rizieq was supposed to appear for questioning, and plain-clothes officers were trailing his motorcade in an unmarked car, after receiving a tip that the cleric’s supporters would protest outside police headquarters in Jakarta.

Jakarta Police Chief Muhammad Fadil Imran initially said that six FPI members were killed after they opened fire and attacked police with a sword and sickles, but investigators later found that four of the six were shot after they attacked officers inside a police vehicle.

No officers were injured in the incident.

Komnas HAM’s investigation found that FPI members were involved in an altercation with the police who were trailing them before two of them were shot and killed. Tensions escalated as the FPI and police cars rammed each other.

The probe concluded that the deaths of the four others were a violation of human rights because they were in police custody at the time, Taufan said.  

Komnas HAM commissioner Khoirul Anam said that he hoped that law enforcement authorities would act on the group’s recommendation.

“We prepared detailed materials in the hope that this case will be resolved soon and that there won’t be any more such violence in this country,” he told reporters.

“We believe that the events on Dec. 7 were gross human rights violations,” said Hariadi Nasution, a lawyer for the victims’ families.

Provoked

Mahfud MD defended the police, saying that Komnas HAM’s investigation also found that the slain men was carrying homemade firearms.

“If the officers had not been provoked, the incident would not have happened,” he said.

National police spokesman Inspector General Argo Yuwono said police would study the Komnas HAM report.

The Indonesian government late last month banned the FPI, accusing it of violating the law and disrupting peace and security with its vigilante activities.

FPI was also banned because 35 of its members and former members had been convicted on terrorism charges, said Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, deputy justice and human rights minister.

About a week after the shooting, Rizieq handed himself over to police for questioning and was arrested. He is still in custody and faces up to six years in prison if convicted of violating health quarantine laws.

The controversial cleric is a vocal critic of the government and proponent of implementing Islamic sharia law in Muslim-majority Indonesia. His return has given the opposition a chance to rally again, analysts say.

Rizieq has significantly influenced the political climate in the past. Jokowi’s opponent in both the 2014 and 2019 general election, current Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, garnered the support of a host of ultra-conservative preachers including Rizieq.

Rizieq was also a key figure in the political downfall and blasphemy conviction of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in 2017.

But Rizieq has had several brushes with the law.

A day before the government announced the ban on FPI, a court in Jakarta ordered the reopening of a controversial pornography case involving Rizieq. It revolves around photos that circulated online in 2017 showing he apparently sent lewd images via the WhatsApp messaging service to a woman with whom he allegedly was having an affair. 

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