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Indonesian police charge hard-line cleric

Muhammad Rizieq Syihab is accused of insulting national ideology, defaming founding father

Indonesian police charge hard-line cleric

Islamic Defenders Front leader Muhammad Rizieq Syihab (holding microphone) speaks at a protest against Jakarta's Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, in Jakarta on Oct. 14, 2106. (ucanews.com photo)


Police have charged the leader of Indonesia's most notorious hard-line Islamist group with insulting the country's near-sacred state ideology of Pancasila and its founding father President Sukarno.

Muhammad Rizieq Syihab, who leads the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front, was charged under the Indonesian criminal that deals with the desecration of state symbols and defamation of heroes, Yuri Yunus, head of the communication division of West Java Police said Jan. 30.

Syihab, who led protests against Jakarta's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, last year could go to prison for at least four years if found guilty.

The charge follows a complaint filed with police by Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, one of Sukarno's daughters, in October last year. It also comes as Indonesian authorities seek to rein in the influence of extremists.

She accused Syihab of insulting the state ideology and her father, Indonesia's first president, in a statement in which he allegedly said, "in Sukarno's Pancasila, God is placed in the ass, whereas according to the Jakarta Charter, God is in the head."

The Jakarta Charter was a proposed preamble to the 1945 Constitution that supported Islamic Shariah law. 

Pancasila, the existing preamble, is more secular and stipulates belief in one God, a just and civilized society, a united Indonesia, democracy guided by consensus, and social justice for all citizens.

The hard-line cleric is also subject to police investigations in other cases that include insulting Christianity and adultery.

A video alleging the married cleric was having an affair with another woman went viral on social media last week.

Petrus Selestinus,  a lawyer representing Catholic students who recently reported Syihab for insulting Christian teaching, welcomed the charge.

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He said police took the appropriate step against the cleric known for his hate speeches against minority and ethnic groups.  

"The state must always step up when society is threatened by radical groups," he said 

Hendardi, chairman of rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the charge answered public doubts about the independence of police which had been under pressure from the Islamic Defenders Front to drop investigations against Syihab.

Boni Hargens, a political analyst and former seminarian, said Syihab's alleged comments on the state ideology showed he has disavowed history.

Boni said he once issued an open letter challenging the cleric's views on the state philosophy.

"Rizieq Syihab for me does not [represent] Islam, but a hardliner who wants to impose his own convictions on the majority of Muslims who actually want to live together amid diversity," he said.

Sugito Armo Pawiro, chairman of the Islam Defenders Front's legal aid branch, defended the cleric, calling the police charge excessive.

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