'Online persecution’ of critics of Islamist Rizieq
by Mathias Hariyadi

"Online militant raids" added to threats and violence. The spokesman: "The police should thank us". The authorities are concerned about the spread of the phenomenon. In 2017, 59 reported cases.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A group of Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) militants manhandled and intimidated a 15-year-old boy: the video of virulent threats raises serious concerns about the growing tendency of the most radical Islamist groups to persecute social media users.

The film which was made public two days ago shows a group of people forcing the Chinese boy to sign an excuse for insulting Rizieq Shihab, the FPI leader wanted by the authorities because of his involvement in a case of pornography.

Andry Wibowo, head of the East Jakarta police confirmed they are investigating the incident. Slim Maarif, FPI spokesman, said he was unaware of the incident, adding that the leadership of the Islamist group ordered its members to report those who "insult" Islam and Muslim clerics on the Internet to police.

The FPI claims that "online raids" conducted in various regions of the country by militants against users accused of insulting their leader are just a personal initiative and not an official directive of the organization. However, FPI fully supports this type of behavior because it is in line with its absolutist and sectarian vision. "Police should thank us for educating irresponsible people who insult the ulema and defamereligion," Maarif said on May 29.

Last week, another case of aggression sparked controversy in Indonesian society. Fiera Lovita, a 40-year-old woman from Solok (West Sumatra), was accused by FPI of having offended Rizieq by posting comments on her Facebook account about his latest legal problems. After searching for the woman, several members of the group confronted Fiera in her workplace on May 23, pressing her to erase her comments and write an official letter saying she was sorry for her actions. Fearing for the safety of her family, Fiera Lovita escaped to Jakarta under the tight security measures provided by Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, the youth association of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest and most moderate Islamic organization in Indonesia.

Concerned by the spread of the phenomenon, the authorities have called on members of radical groups to stop taking justice into their own hands. "We have rules and laws. FPI supporters should not behave as vigilantes or act as judges,” said police spokesperson Setyo Wasisto.

NGO SAFENet – Jakarta  - said in a statement that the cases of Lovita and the 15-year-old boy are not the first in Indonesia. This year alone there have been 59. Some analysts have called this phenomenon the "Ahok effect" after the blasphemy sentence of former governor of Jakarta. SAFENet condemns this new and dangerous form of social intimidation and hopes that the law will put an end to it.