Jakarta Police Defend Quashing Visiting Canadian Muslim Activist’s Speech
Bayu Marhaenjati & Ismira Lutfia
The police on Saturday defended its forced canceling of a speaking event in Jakarta featuring liberal Canadian Muslim activist Irshad Manji, saying her alleged mission to promote homosexuality among Indonesian Muslims threatened the public order.
Manji was in Jakarta to attend the launch of her new book, “Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom,” at the Salihara cultural center in Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, on Friday evening.
She had only spoken for about 15 minutes when the police interrupted her, announcing that the event should be called off because hundreds of members and supporters of hardline Muslim group the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) had congregated outside the building and demanded an end to the event.
Manji was escorted out of Salihara under heavy police guard.
Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said Salihara had breached a regulation by failing to report to the police when it planned to feature Manji as a speaker in the forum.
“There have been rejections from the local neighborhood and community units as well as an organization [FPI] against the book discussion. The locals urged that the event be ended because it discussed a sensitive issue,” Rikwanto said in Jakarta on Saturday.
“Besides, Irshad Manji is a lesbian activist and she was going to talk about a book that will offend what the majority of Muslims believe. We saw a potential for a public order disruption,” he added.
Salihara co-founder Goenawan Mohamad said he regretted the incident and called it a violation of the freedoms of speech and of peaceful assembly.
“The accusation that Irshad is trying to spread a misleading idea on lesbianism and gays is slander,” Goenawan said.
The claim that events featuring foreign speakers must first be approved by the police was a lie, Goenawan added.
“I’ve invited speakers from abroad numerous times but was never required to seek a permit,” he said.
In a statement issued after the incident, Manji praised Salihara and the some 150 audience members at the Friday night event.
She stopped short of directly addressing the FPI and others involved in the disruption of the forum.
“Last evening at Salihara, progressive Indonesians showed why there is hope in Islam; they stood for liberty and love in the face of thuggery and hate,” Manji said.
“In so doing, these brave citizens of Jakarta lived up to the best ideals of the Koran: ‘God does not change the condition of people until they change what is inside themselves,’ ” she added.