Is Indonesia’s Hard-Line FPI Immune to the Long Arm of the Law?

By webadmin on 06:37 pm May 07, 2012
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Ezra Sihite, Bayu Marhaenjati, Dessy Sagita & Farouk Arnaz

Ezra Sihite, Bayu Marhaenjati, Dessy Sagita & Farouk Arnaz

Tantowi Anwari never thought the T-shirt he wore, reading “Fight the tyranny of majority,” would get him into trouble, let alone land him in a local police station.

The pro-religious freedom activist was set upon by hundreds of members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) on Sunday for standing up for his beliefs. The FPI has also in recent days clashed with a local community in Solo when they tried to sweep a local neighborhood for alcohol and disrupted a book discussion in Jakarta.

The FPI’s routine disregard for the law and well-documented tendency to ride roughshod over local communities has been widely criticized, but to date only minimal action has been taken against its members by the authorities.

In Bekasi, hundreds of people from the FPI forced Tantowi to take off the T-shirt while a few hard-liners landed punches and kicks to his body as police struggled to get him to safety. When police took him to a nearby police station, he was questioned but his assailants remained untouched.

The incident is just one of many cases of special treatment that the FPI and other hard-line groups are accused of enjoying from law enforcers.

On Friday, the FPI — labeled by human rights activists and security groups as a band of vigilantes — broke into a discussion at Salihara in South Jakarta, where a Canadian author, Irshad Manji, was supposed to talk about her latest book, “Allah, Liberty and Love.”

It was evident that police had prior knowledge of the FPI’s intent to harass people attending the discussion. Minutes before the FPI broke in, police ordered the event to be disbanded. “Police said that they would not provide protection if the discussion continued,” Salihara program manager Ening Nurjanah said.

The FPI is notorious for interrupting such forums. Last year in Surabaya, the local FPI branch harassed a discussion on pluralism. Police were there to bring a halt to the discussion, claiming that the event had not secure a required permit.

“These [cases] show that police are facilitating demands from Muslim groups and not acting as law enforcers,” Salihara curator and writer Sitok Srengenge said.

Police again used the permit excuse to justify halting the Salihara discussion. “There were complaints from the local community and a particular group against the book discussion,” Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said. “After police checked, [the discussion] had no permit.”

He said Salihara should have sought a police permit, given the sensitivity of the issue discussed.

“Irshad Manji is a lesbian discussing a book that would offend common Islamic beliefs,” the police officer insisted.

LGBT activist Hartoyo said minority groups were often left unprotected by police in the face of hard-line groups.

“There is no protection for groups considered to be ‘amoral,’ ” he said.

Besides human rights considerations, such unlawful acts carried out by mass organizations with impunity, according to Aviliani, an economist at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), could scare off potential investors.

Aviliani, who is also a member of influential think tank the National Economic Committee (KEN), called on the government to re-evaluate the existence of such mass organizations.

“The government must start now. Once the size of these organizations grows bigger, it will create more problems,” she said.

Analysts have also presciently warned that authorities’ lack of action might create further unrest and force those harassed to take the law into their own hands.

Two people were seriously injured when residents of Gandekan village in Solo attacked FPI members on Friday and Saturday. But the resentment toward the FPI took an even more violent turn in Bogor when some 30 unidentified people attacked and killed 36-year-old FPI member Mustofa on Sunday.

“We have never been violent, but we always become the target,” claimed Muhammad Zaini, the head of the FPI in Bogor. “Don’t blame us if we search for these killers ourselves.”

Additional reporting by Hangga Brata, Vento Saudale & Zaky Pawas