Indonesian Islamists protest attempts to curb radicals
Conservative Islamic groups protested yesterday in the capital of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, denouncing President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s attempt to ban radical organizations. Demonstrators from an alliance of Islamic groups waved flags and held up banners calling the government tyrannical and repressive. The crowd, which swelled to an estimated 2,000 people, was divided into separate rows for men and women and was mostly peaceful, said Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono.
A decree signed by Jokowi last week that amends a law regulating mass organizations will give the government almost unfettered power to ban groups it deems contrary to the country’s constitution. Parliament has one year to reject or approve it. It is likely that Hizbut Tahrir, a group that campaigns for Indonesia to adopt Shariah law, is among the targets of the decree, with the government announcing in May that it planned to ban the organization.
“Jokowi’s anti-Islam decree is proof this is a dictatorial regime,” a rally coordinator, Kholilulloh Al-Habsyi, told the crowd from a truck. Rights groups have criticized the decree as a draconian and anti-democratic measure and say governments could easily abuse its power. Jokowi’s measure followed months of sectarian tensions in Jakarta that shook the government and undermined the country’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.
Hizbut Tahrir, along with groups such as the violent Islamic Defenders Front, was behind a series of massive protests in Jakarta, the capital, against the city’s minority Christian governor, an ally of Jokowi who was accused of blaspheming Islam. He subsequently lost a bid for reelection to a Muslim candidate and was imprisoned for two years for blasphemy despite prosecutors downgrading the charge to a lesser offense. Hizbut, a global organization that is already banned or cir- cumscribed in some countries, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.
Major graft case
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency has named the country’s speaker of parliament as a suspect in a major graft scandal which is estimated to have siphoned around $170 million out of government coffers. The Corruption Eradication Commission named house speaker Setya Novanto as a suspect late Monday in the giant graft case that has also implicated other senior politicians, including the justice minister, ex-interior minister and several governors.
The head of the commission, Agus Rahardjo, said Novanto “allegedly abused his authority and position for personal gain or for the interest of a corporation”. Investigators allege that Novanto was among many politicians who received kickbacks from funds earmarked for a government project to issue new ID cards to the country’s 255 million inhabitants. “The accusations are all untrue,” Novanto told a press conference yesterday.
Indonesia’s special anti-corruption court has said that more than one-third of the 5.9 trillion rupiah ($443 million) fund was embezzled by a network of politicians and businessmen in a scheme that allegedly ran from 2009 to 2015. Novanto, who is also the chairman of the ruling coalition party Golkar, is the fourth suspect announced in the case, which could turn into a test of President Joko Widodo’s willingness to take a tough stance against corruption since many of those implicated are government officials. Novanto was previously named a suspect in another corruption case which forced him to quit as speaker in 2015 when he was accused of extorting a stake from US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan in exchange for extending the company’s right to operate in the archipelago. —Agencies
JAKARTA: Indonesian Muslims gather during a rally. —AFP