Jakarta cleric faces porn charges 

Jakarta’s police have named an Islamist leader as a suspect in the exchange of pornographic messages and photos, a new legal threat to the cleric who helped organise Muslim rallies (pictured) against the Indonesian capital’s jailed former Christian governor. 

Habib Rizieq, an outspoken religious leader who runs the Islamic Defenders Forum (FPI), is separately accused of insulting Indonesia’s secular state ideology, Pancasila.

Rizieq is accused of violating pornography laws by exchanging graphic messages and naked pictures with a woman.

Rizieq is charged with transmitting pornography to activist Firza Husein, who has also been named as a suspect.

Screenshots of what appeared to be text and picture messages between the two of them began circulating on social media earlier this year.

A Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said Rizieq had been made a suspect and was likely to go to court.

“The main crime is participating in and transmitting pornographic content,” Yuwono said.

It is seen by many as the height of hypocrisy for a man whose group’s core battleground has been against sexual promiscuity, prostitution and alcohol consumption.

Rizieq’s group campaigned for the controversial anti-pornography laws under which he is now being prosecuted.

To his supporters, Rizieq is a hero who embodies the true spirit of Islam.

Rizieq is overseas after flying to Malaysia and then Saudi Arabia and has not returned home despite repeated summons for questioning by the authorities.

His lawyer denied that his client was reluctant to face the charges and an FPI spokesman said the allegations were “unfounded”.

“This has all been engineered to criminalise the clerics,” said Novel Bamukmin, the FPI’s Jakarta chief.

“The police need to investigate who really produced and distributed that transcript,” he retorted.

Rizieq was jailed in 2003 and 2008 for violence and disturbing public order.

President Joko Widodo says he is taking a tougher stance against Islamism and has said he would not tolerate any individuals or organisations who undermined the vague principles of Pancasila and Indonesia’s pluralistic traditions.

Rizieq faces other charges including first president and blasphemy against Catholicism for questioning whether Jesus was the son of God.

Religious and political tensions have risen in the last six months with Islamist rallies targeting the former Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok. The ethnic-Chinese Christian was imprisoned earlier in May for insulting the Koran.

Rizieq’s lawyer, Sugitmo Atmo Pawiro, denied the pornography charges, claiming the allegations were trumped up by Ahok supporters.

The government recently said it would outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that calls for sharia law and supported the protests against Ahok.

Jakarta rallies in late 2016 against the then governor. Picture credit: Wikimedia