Fri, 09 May 2003

Militant leader goes on trial for vandalism

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Islam Defenders Front (FPI) chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab went on trial in the Central Jakarta District Court on Thursday for allegedly insulting the authorities and instigating a string of attacks on entertainment spots in the city.

Members of the militant group have attacked a number of entertainment venues here in the past few years.

It was not until late last year that police acted to stop the vandalism and took legal action after the central government took a stand against radicalism following the Bali bombings.

If found guilty, Rizieq could face a maximum seven-year jail term.

Prosecutor Hasan Basrie said the defendant violated Article 154 of the Criminal Code as he had expressed resentment and insulted the Jakarta administration in public during a broadcast dialog held by Trans TV in October 2002.

"When the moderator asked 'what makes you act as the police, the prosecutor as well as judges?', the defendant said 'we don't have such authority ... we have asked for a bylaw on antiimmoral acts (but) the governor is deaf, the city council is deaf, the police are impotent," Basrie told the court, presided over by Judge Herry Swantoro.

The prosecutor also said the defendant distributed a circular to FPI members, supporters and its Pemuda Laskar (fighters), which contained instructions to target immoral outlets.

They targeted entertainment spots providing liquor, drugs, gambling and prostitution, and destroyed "immoral" advertisements in public places. They also wanted to force entertainment spots that ran "immoral transactions", such as bars, cafes, karaoke lounges, massage parlors and game centers, to shut every Muslim holiday, Thursdays and Fridays.

In a interview by SCTV in October, the defendant admitted to attacking red-light spots operated by "big fish" and also called for disobedience against the unjust police.

The prosecutor charged Rizieq with instigating violence in public places and rejecting police powers.

The FPI caused widespread fear and injured a number of people.

Police first detained Rizieq on Oct. 16, 2002.

Early last month, when the police planned to transfer their investigation file and Rizieq to the prosecutors, Rizieq was said to be in Jordan undertaking a humanitarian mission for the victims of the Iraq war.

Upon his return on April 20, police detained Rizieq, but FPI supporters snatched him away from the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office the next day, just after the police submitted their file. He turned himself in later that day and was sent to Salemba Prison.

On Thursday, more than 100 FPI supporters clad in white robes packed the courtroom and the second-floor corridor of the court building. They chanted prayers when their leader read his personal response to the prosecutors' indictment.

Rizieq said what he did was a criticism of the authorities, who were not listening to the people.

His defense team rejected the indictment, saying that using excerpts from television interviews to secure a case would set a bad precedent.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday to hear the prosecutors' response to the defendant's objections.