Thu, 20 Nov 2003

FPI leader released from prison

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab was released from Salemba Penitentiary in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.

Rizieq, bearing the title of Habib, a legacy of his ethnic Arab heritage and apparent ability to trace his ancestry to Islam's Prophet Muhammad, was released after having served his seven-month sentence in prison.

He was found guilty of organizing mob attacks on bars and restaurants in the capital in the past several years. He was also found guilty of inciting violence and spreading hatred against the lawful government.

During sentencing on Aug. 11, Rizieq had already been in detention for four months.

FPI's paramilitary wing has become a notorious part of the city because of their violent raids on night clubs, massage parlors and entertainment centers which they consider to be dens of sin, and thus contrary to Islamic law.

Upon his release from the penitentiary at 9 a.m., around 500 supporters greeted and accompanied him to parade around the city in open trucks, cars and motorcycles on their way to their headquarters in Petamburan, Central Jakarta.

Before cruising around in his Mazda E-200 van, Rizieq briefed his supporters, telling them to "continue the struggle to crush corrupt officials and those who protect immorality."

When asked whether he planned to carry out more raids on night clubs, he said the FPI would only report sinful practices to the police.

"However, we will also monitor whether or not the police take action against those places we informed them about," he said.

He also asserted that FPI had never been dissolved.

FPI's paramilitary wing was said to have disbanded in the aftermath of last year's Bali bombings, but later regrouped and have not been very active in Jakarta.

Also in his talk he said that he would make an all-out effort to "save the country's dignity and values".

"The means to that end is by upholding Islamic sharia," he asserted, while adding that justice in the country would never be realized unless the sharia was enforced.

Rizieq was first detained on Oct. 16 last year but was later released. He was rearrested in February after reportedly traveling to Iraq, apparently with the intent of mobilizing FPI members to help that country defend itself against the United States invasion.