12 January 2021
- Ban on Islamic Defenders’ Front will increase short-term risk of protests and violent clashes with security forces
- Government will aggressively uphold ban, which will steadily weaken FPI’s organisational capabilities in coming years
- Efforts to promote moderate Islam will take significantly longer to succeed, but will likely help further limit militancy risk over longer term
Six officials, including ministers and the national police and counterterrorism chiefs, signed a joint decree on 30 December banning the hardline Islamist Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI). The Deputy Justice Minister said this decision was taken as nearly 30 members of the group had been convicted on terrorism charges, and because its agenda conflicted with the state ideology Pancasila, which emphasises tolerance and diversity. Hours later, the FPI’s chairman announced the formation of a new group, the United Islamic Front, also to be known as the FPI. The police responded on 5 January that this new FPI would have no legal basis, allowing the authorities to immediately disperse any of its activities.
The FPI and its clerical leader Rizieq Shihab emerged as influential political actors in 2017, when they played a central role in helping Anies Baswedan secure election as governor of Jakarta. This was achieved by coordinating mass protests targeting the Chinese-Christian incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) for insulting Islam, which ultimately led to his conviction and imprisonment for blasphemy. This raised fears among the wider political and security establishment, however, prompting a backlash including the formulation of politically-motivated pornography charges against Rizieq, who subsequently fled into exile in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Indonesia in late 2020, renewing fears of tensions between his supporters…