JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police will block a rally in Jakarta next month led by the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) if the group intends to make it political just days before an election for city governor that has raised religious tension.
The FPI has led two rallies over the past year targeting the ethnic Chinese, Christian Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, which drew hundreds of thousands of Muslims calling for his jailing over allegations he insulted the Koran.
The FPI leader, Habib Rizieq, was on Monday declared a suspect over allegations he insulted Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila, which enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system.
Jakarta police chief Mochamad Iriawan told Reuters in an interview on Monday the FPI’s plan for another rally on Feb. 11, four days before the Jakarta elections, indicated it would be political in nature, and if so, it would not be allowed.
“The end of the campaign period should not be disrupted by the planned protest,” Iriawan said.
“If the context is as they said on social media - ‘we should vote for a Muslim person as our leader’ - it looks like a political campaign.”
The rallies late last year raised concerns among investors that Islamist militancy and mob rule were taking hold in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, the majority of whom follow a moderate form of Islam.
The naming of Rizieq as a suspect comes amid signs that authorities are taking a firmer stance to contain the rise of the FPI and other Islamist groups.
Purnama, who is known as Ahok and is an ally of President Joko Widodo, is contesting the Feb. 15 election against two Muslim candidates.
He was named a blasphemy suspect on Nov. 16, days after the first big FPI rally, and is on trial. He denies the charge.
Iriawan said the FPI had yet to apply for a permit for its rally, and the group would only be allowed to proceed if “they just hold a prayer”.
Rizieq also faces investigations into alleged blasphemy and hate speech, including remarks by him that communist symbols had been hidden in new Indonesian bank notes and comments mocking the notion that Jesus was the son of God.
FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif said the group’s supporters would defend Rizieq “until the last drop of our blood”.
There has been a increase in blasphemy complaints filed to police since the accusation was levelled against Purnama in October.
Tobias Basuki, a political analyst at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Indonesia’s laws criminalising slights against religion and the national ideology of Pancasila were being abused.
“These blasphemy laws are being used against pretty well anyone for anything,” he said. “Frankly, they are just politically motivated plays but they are creating a big mess for Indonesia.”
“These are just concepts and we are repressing the potential for healthy debate. Meanwhile, very little is done to stop actual hate speech which threatens lives.”
Editing by Ed Davies