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Police drop pornography case against Rizieq Shihab
Jakarta Globe - June 18, 2018
Rizieq, who built his reputation as a promoter of a strict interpretation of Islam, often through hate speech, intimidation and violence, was seen gaining more political influence among those opposing President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
The cleric, who is the founder of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), fled to Saudi Arabia last year after screenshots of a lewd WhatsApp chat and nude pictures, allegedly exchanged between him and social activist Firza Husein, leaked on the internet. Both have denied the allegation.
"It is true that the investigators have closed the case; the investigators have the authority to do so," National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohammad Iqbal said on Sunday (17/06).
"There was an official request from the lawyer to stop the investigation. After an open hearing of the case, it was terminated because, according to the investigator, they have yet to find the person who uploaded the chat on the internet," Iqbal said.
However, he added that investigators can reopen the case at any time if new evidence emerge. Rizieq's lawyer, Sugito Atmo Prawiro, confirmed that the investigation has been closed.
The cleric played a central role in the so-called 212 Movement, which held a series of religiously charged protest rallies against then-Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama in 2016. This resulted in Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent and one of Jokowi's key allies, losing his bid for re-election. The rallies also significantly raised religious tensions in the country.
The timing and nature of the pornography case led observers to speculate that this may have been the result of political meddling to prevent Rizieq from expanding his influence, especially ahead of this year's regional elections and the 2019 presidential election.
Police initially detained Firza on the morning of Dec. 12, 2016 on a separate treason allegation, which she denied. A month later, an unknown source uploaded details of the WhatsApp chat on the internet. Police named Rizieq a suspect in the pornography case in May last year and summoned him for questioning. However, he had already left for Mecca at the time to perform umrah, or the minor hajj, and subsequently decided not to return to Indonesia.
Over the past year, Rizieq has received visits in Mecca from several politicians, particularly those in the opposition, such as Prabowo Subianto, chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), Sohibul Iman, president of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and Muhammad Amien Rais, founder of the National Mandate Party (PAN).
In Indonesia meanwhile, some proponents of the 212 Movement, including Yusuf Muhammad Martak, Slamet Maarif, Muhammad Al Khathath, Sobri Lubis, Roudhul Bahar and Usamah Hisyam, also opened communications with Jokowi and met with him in April.
While the National Police spokesman denied any State Palace involvement in the decision to drop the case against Rizieq, some believe it will help reduce political tensions.
"The police's decision is welcomed.... It will lead to a more calm and peaceful [political] atmosphere," House of Representatives Speaker Bambang Soesatyo said on Sunday.