Crowds cause major jams as they welcome back controversial Indonesian cleric


Islamist leader Rizieq Shihab speaks to supporters gathered at the Jakarta International Airport on Nov 10, 2020. - AFP

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN): Rizieq Shihab, the firebrand cleric who heads the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), returned to Indonesia on Tuesday (Nov 10) after nearly three years of self-proclaimed exile in Saudi Arabia.

Early on Tuesday morning, thousands of his supporters, including FPI members, marched to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, to welcome the controversial cleric.

The many groups that converged during the march caused severe congestion on the road to the airport, while a video showing thousands of Rizieq’s supporters crowding the airport made its rounds on Twitter.

FPI attorney Aziz Yanuar said that the supporters came from various regions to welcome Rizieq home. The group had also prepared a ceremony to celebrate his return at the FPI headquarters in Petamburan, Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta.

"The crowds are ready to welcome him in Petamburan. It is like welcoming someone who has returned from the haj," said Aziz.

He added that anyone could join the FPI in celebrating Rizieq's return.

Traffic deputy director Adj. Comr. Tugiyo of the Soekarno-Hatta Police said that vehicles used by Rizieq’s supporters had jammed access to and from the airport.

"They parked their vehicles along Prof Soedijatmo airport toll road, Jalan Perimeter Utara, and Jalan Perimeter Selatan, and causing congestion. It's very difficult for the traffic to move," Tugiyo said on Tuesday as quoted by kompas.com.

Marketing communication head Irra Sisyanti of Jasamarga Metropolitan Tollroad said that traffic stretched 7km to Soekarno-Hatta airport.

"We are working with the police to manage the traffic," she said.

The airport’s acting senior manager of branch communication and legal, Haerul Anwar, said that Soekarno-Hatta had deployed 970 airport security personnel to secure the premises during Rizieq’s arrival.

Haerul had earlier urged Rizieq’s supporters to welcome him at his residence in Petamburan instead of at the airport, as doing so could disrupt airport operations and disturb other passengers.

"But those who insist on coming to Soekarno-Hatta airport, please remain disciplined in following the health protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19," he said.

At the end of October, Rizieq announced his intention to return to Indonesia to support the FPI and other religious organisations in protesting the recently passed Job Creation Law, along with labour unions and students.

“Insya Allah [God willing], I will return to Indonesia soon. I will return to fight with the Muslims in our beloved country, ” he said in the video announcing his plan to repatriate.

Rizieq also added that the current situation in Indonesia was “worrisome”, but did not elaborate further.

Rizieq was embroiled in several legal cases when he fled the country in 2017, reportedly on umrah (minor haj) to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The two most infamous cases for which the National Police had named him as a suspect were a pornography case and a case on insulting the state ideology, Pancasila.

He remained in the holy Muslim city on “self-exile”, even after his visa expired in July 2018.

Rizieq, however, denies that he had overstayed his visa, claiming that the Islamic kingdom had denied approving his bayan safar, or exit permit, and then had later extended his visa.

He has also threatened to sue anyone spreading “rumours” that he had overstayed his visa to Saudi Arabia for slander.

In December 2019, Rizieq claimed that he could not return to his home country because he had been “exiled” by the Indonesian government.

However, Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Agus Maftuh Abegebriel said on Friday that the government had never prevented Rizieq from returning to the country.

Separately, despite his supporters’s claims that the police had dropped all charges against Rizieq, Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Yusri Yunus did not immediately confirm this.

“We are still checking [Rizieq’s] legal status [in connection with] several cases that have been filed against him, ” Yusri said on Monday as quoted by wartakota.tribunnews.com. - The Jakarta Post/Asia New Network

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