Supporters of hardline Indonesian cleric hold rally to pressure police over deadly shootout

JAKARTA – Supporters of hardline Indonesian cleric Rizieq Shihab protested outside police headquarters in Sampang regency, East Java, on Wednesday (Dec 16) to demand justice for six of their members who were killed in a shootout with police and for the release of their leader.

Rizieq, who heads the controversial Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), was detained from Saturday at the Metro Jaya regional police headquarters just outside Jakarta. He is being investigated for breaching coronavirus restrictions by holding events that drew thousands of followers in the city.

In Sampang on Wednesday, the several dozen protesters gathered outside the police station to chant slogans and listen to speeches by rally organisers, pictures of the rally showed.

Many were without face masks and didn’t observe social distancing, as advised by the government amid the pandemic that has logged nearly 530,000 cases in Indonesia and killed more than 19,000 people.

“We are at the Sampang police station to demand justice, for police to complete investigations into the killing of FPI cadres in Jakarta,” a rally organiser, Mahrus, was quoted as saying by local news site FaktualNews.co.

The protesters also demand for immediate release of Rizieq, he said.

Last week, police shot dead six of his followers in a highway shootout as the supporters were accompanying in a convoy of vehicles to a function. Police said those killed were carrying weapons including pistols, which has been denied by the FPI.

Local media has reported that Rizieq, 55, had been charged with the obstruction of law enforcement and incitement of criminal acts, Reuters reported.

Before his arrest, the preacher had been called in by the police several times to give a statement for allowing thousands of his supporters to gather at the Jakarta airport and in a gathering at his house last month, soon after he returned from a three-year self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia. But he had managed to avoid the police until his arrest on Saturday.

Although the FPI advocates Islamic values, critics have referred to it as thugs with a penchant for extorting protection fees from bars and nightclubs.

A senior government official this week said that the FPI has recruited former members of the disbanded Muslim hardline group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and conducted army-like training for young recruits.

The HTI, which called for strict Islamic laws in Indonesia and wanted to unify all Muslims into a caliphate, was disbanded in mid-2017 on grounds that it contradicted state ideology Pancasila, the founding national principles that promote pluralism, tolerance and democracy.

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