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Indonesia bans politically influential Islamic Defenders Front

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesian Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who has resided in Saudi Arabia since 2017, greets people as he arrives at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang near Jakarta, Indonesia, on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Indonesia has officially outlawed the politically influential Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), headed by popular cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab, amid fears of rising tensions between the government and the group’s supporters.

“The government has banned FPI activities and will stop any activities carried out by FPI,” Indonesian Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD said on Wednesday, adding, “FPI no longer has legal standing.”

The ban came after police arrested Rizieq earlier this month for holding several mass rallies since his return from Saudi Arabia in violation of restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said at the time that the charges Razieq was facing could lead to five years in prison.

The politically influential cleric went into self-exile in April 2017, following two lawsuits against him.

Indonesia later dropped the charges and Rizieq returned from the kingdom last month.

Since his return, he has held several mass rallies in the capital, Jakarta, despite rising coronavirus infections and deaths.

When he landed in Jakarta on November 10, tens of thousands of people flocked to the airport to celebrate his return, while ignoring social distancing and other health protocols.

Before he left Indonesia, Rizieq led a large movement against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, who was accused of insulting Islamic sanctities.

In May 2017, Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

The rallies led by Rizieq back then were the biggest since the fall of Indonesia’s former ruler Suharto in 1998.

Since his return, the cleric has announced plans to embark on a “moral crusade” and has met some politicians and opposition figures.

Rizieq’s arrest came one week after six of his supporters were killed in a gun battle with police in Jakarta on December 7.

The cleric’s lawyer, Aziz Yanuar, said earlier that his team would file a motion to seek Rizieq’s release.

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