Category: People

Supporters of Indonesian cleric set up think-tank in his honour

Supporters of controversial Indonesian cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab have set up a think-tank named after him in a sign of his growing stature at home as he fights legal troubles from a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Habib Rizieq Shihab Center, which was inaugurated in Jakarta over the weekend, aims to be a scientific and strategic research hub based on Islamic values for the benefit of Muslims and the country in general, said its chairman, Abdul Choir Ramadhan. “Habib” is an honorific used to address a Muslim scholar believed to a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.

“The center is named after him because of his stature and as a show of our admiration for his struggle to uphold Islamic values,” Ramadhan said. He said the center was self-funded but did not rule out public donations.

Rizieq, founder of the vigilante group Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), shot to political prominence after he led a campaign in 2016 and 2017 to oust then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, over allegations that he had insulted the Koran in off-the-cuff remarks.

The center’s launch coincided with the 20th anniversary of the FPI’s founding. The group is notorious for past anti-vice raids targeting places accused of harboring sex workers and drug users, as well as nightspots that remained open during Ramadan.

Rizieq has been in a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia following attempts by Indonesian police to question him last year over allegations he had engaged in a lewd online chat with a female supporter and a separate charge of insulting the Indonesian state ideology of Pancasila.

Investigations into the cases were stopped this year with police citing a lack of evidence.

The cleric’s supporters said the cases against him were fabricated by the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo because of Rizieq’s role in inflaming Muslim sentiment against Ahok, an ally of the president.

Ramadhan said Rizieq had doubts about returning home any time soon, saying the political climate is unfavorable.

“The investigations may have been dropped, but they can always reinstate them any time,” Ramadhan said.

On Saturday, Rizieq delivered a speech through a telephone link during the ceremonial launch of the center.

“I hope that the HRS Center will become a place for the advancement of knowledge for the benefit of the Muslim ummah (society) and the country,” he said in the message posted on YouTube.

“This is in line with the principles of my struggle that I have always adhered to: That the Scripture must be above the Constitution, and that the Constitution should not deviate from the Scripture,” he said.

“The institutionalization of Sharia is inevitable for Islamic values are an inseparable part of our nation building,” he added.

Emrus Sihombing, a political analyst at Pelita Harapan University, described the center as a positive move.

“If the center is indeed engaged in scientific and strategic studies for the benefit of the ummah, it’s very good for public discourse because there will be debates on the merits of their ideas,” he said.

“It will be a lot more productive,” he said.  “He is a leader who commands the strong loyalty of people who subscribe to his views.”

Rizieq played a key role in last year’s conviction and imprisonment of Ahok on blasphemy charges.

Conservative Muslim groups held protests against Ahok in 2016 and 2017 in the run-up to a gubernatorial election in which he was a front-runner after an edited video made it appear that he had said the Quran deceived people.

Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who courted support of FPI and other conservative Muslim groups despite his liberal credentials. Ahok later was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

Ramadhan said the HRS Center would conduct studies, hold seminars, provide training as well as publish books to influence public discourse on Islam, including in the aspects of law, governance and public policy.

“We want to promote ideas of a system of governance based on Islamic values,” he said.

“There’s no contradiction between Pancasila (the state ideology) and Islamic teachings.”

Copyright ©2018, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.

East Timor’s present and future leaders keep its ASEAN aspiration alive

Despite their political differences, outgoing and incoming leadership of East Timor said that its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a mutual goal that they continue to strive.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said East Timor’s ASEAN membership is “a very long dream.”

“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said in an interview last month at a hotel near the headquarters of his Fretilin party.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son-in-law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview on May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Alkatiri also described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its efforts to join ASEAN.

Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader. Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Alkatiri has been leading a short-lived, minority government and the party lost to a three-party coalition led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) in the May 12 parliamentary election.

Gusmao, who is expected to nominate former president Taur Matan Ruak as the next prime minister this week, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.

“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao said in an interview at his party CNRT headquarters.

Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.

So far, East Timor has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting.”

Luis da Costa Ximenes, director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun said there is a different level of regional engagement with fellow civil society organizations in neighboring countries.

He added that members of the network have been lending support for each other in their advocacy on various issues such as human rights and development.

“There are national East Timor issues, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is also a regional issue,” he said.

“Civil societies in East Timor is already part of the civil societies network in Southeast Asia and at this level, we always campaign for East Timor’s admission to ASEAN,” Ximenes said.

Veteran Thai journalist and long time ASEAN observer Kavi Chongkittavorn said it is Singapore that East Timor, which is one of the most democratic country in the region, has to convince to secure support for its ASEAN admission.

“East Timor membership in ASEAN is long overdue,” Kavi said, acknowledging that East Timor officials would still need capacity-building training and other preparations in the political security, economy and social cultural communities, as the other previous new members did before they gained admission to the bloc.

He added that East Timor’s admission to ASEAN is also about the democratic attitude in the region and Thailand, which will assume the next bloc chairmanship after Singapore, would admit East Timor for good.

“East Timor’s membership to ASEAN will increase the democratic weight within the grouping,” he said.

Read the full interview with East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in Arab News

Indonesia shines a light on dishonest Umrah operators

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has revamped its supervision of Umrah tour operators and imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses to new ones as of April.

The moratorium was imposed as a major Umrah scam case, which cost 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims a combined loss of 848.70 billion rupiah ($60 million), was being heard at a court near Jakarta.

On May 30, the Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who made a name for herself after her modest fashion collection was debuted internationally in London and showcased at New York Fashion Week in Sep 2016, during which “her works received eminent applause,” according to the fashion week’s website.

“We are reviewing the 906 Umrah tour operators currently listed in the ministry. We have also revoked licenses of four operators so far this year,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

“The minister of religious affairs has also issued a ministerial regulation which details new rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by, such as the price reference should be at least 20 million rupiah ($1,428) and customers should be able to go to Makkah no longer than six months since they made their first payments,” Mastuki added.

Sobandi, the presiding judge, also gave Anniesa and her husband Andika a 10-billion-rupiah fine each on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Mastuki said the verdicts are proper punishments that everyone has to accept.

“Justice has been served, despite the consequences and losses that their customers suffered,” he said.

Through a Jakarta-based travel agency, which they had established in 2009, First Travel, Anniesa and Andika used to offer a cheap Umrah package, which cost about 14.3 million rupiah ($1,000) and was $300 cheaper than a normal package would cost.

“The defendants had known from the start that the 14.3-million-rupiah package per person would not be enough to send a customer to perform Umrah,” Yulinda Trimurti, a member of the panel of judges, said during the hearing.

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Photo: Facebook/Anniesa Hasibuan Official

The pair, whose lavish lifestyle was on full display on their social media accounts, had promised customers who paid in full that they could go to Makkah for Umrah in a year.

But customers’ complaints began to arise and were made public after a group of would-be pilgrims failed to depart to Makkah in March 2017 and the travel agent could not give an estimated schedule of when they could eventually go.

From December 2016 to May 2017, there were 72,682 Umrah hopefuls signed up for the cheap package that First Travel offered, but the company was only able to send 14,000 customers to Saudi Arabia.

The pair also owed 24 billion rupiah ($1.7 million) to three hotels in Makkah and Madinah.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs revoked First Travel’s license as an Umrah operator in early August last year and later in the month, the police named the pair and Anniesa’s younger sister Siti Nuraidah Hasibuan as suspects and charged them with fraud and money laundering. Siti Nuraidah, also known as Kiki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same court.

Anniesa had been listed among Forbes Indonesia’s 2017 Inspiring Women earlier last year before the fraud case became public. But later in August, the magazine announced on its official Facebook page that it has removed her from the list.

“Forbes Indonesia endorses ethical business practices and wish to inspire others to achieve their success through ethical means of doing business,” the magazine said.

The police are now investigating a similar case involving a Makassar-based Umrah tour operator Abu Tour. Mastuki said Abu Tour’s case was similar to First Travel, which gained customers through Ponzi-scheme promotions and cheap packages.

“Initially there were about 80,000 prospective pilgrims who couldn’t go, but some have been remedied and sent on Umrah trips through other operators,” he added.

The long waiting list for Indonesians to go on Hajj, which could extend for more than two decades, has created a lucrative market for Umrah tour operators in the world’s largest Muslim population country to send pilgrim hopefuls to Makkah.

Read the full story in Arab News

East Timor independence fighter set to become PM again

Ballot-counting almost finished in East Timor on Sunday, with a three-party coalition headed by independence fighter Xanana Gusmao leading in the vote, making him likely to be prime minister for the third time in one of the world’s youngest nations.

The Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) is ahead with 49.41 percent, while the Fretilin party, whose Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri is incumbent prime minister, is second with 34.34 percent, according to data from the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration.

As of Sunday afternoon, 607,272 votes, or 98.26 percent, had been counted, but the final result is expected by Monday morning.

With the votes counted so far, the AMP is set to win at least 34 seats in the 65-seat Parliament, while Fretilin is likely to win 23, similar to what it achieved in last year’s election.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri voted in Dili’s Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The result is expected to end months of political gridlock that has delayed development programs in the country, which voted to secede from Indonesia in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002.

An AMP source said that Gusmao, a former president and prime minister, will reassume the premiership and Taur Matan Ruak, a former president and head of the People’s Liberation Party — which is part of the AMP coalition — will be a deputy prime minister.

Arif Abdullah Sagran, a local political observer, said he is pessimistic that a government led by Gusmao will bring any change to development and social welfare in East Timor.

“Gusmao’s programs were always populist. They looked good only in the short term,” Sagran said, adding that Fretilin will not be much of a challenge to the future ruling coalition.

“The challenge will come from within the AMP, because the three parties that make up the coalition are very different from one another. The only thing that unites them is that they were facing the same opposition.”

Both sides refused to comment on the results until they become official at the end of the month after verification by the High Court.

Arlindo Amaral, a 38-year-old taxi driver who voted for Fretilin, said whatever the election outcome, what matters most is that all parties should be willing to work together to push for development in East Timor.

“The next government should be able to create more jobs, provide better electricity and clean water, and make their campaign promises a reality,” he said.

Youth unemployment remains high at 11 percent, according to the World Bank, and about 65 percent of East Timor’s population of 1.2 million is below 25 years old.

President Francisco Guterres called for elections after he dissolved Parliament in January following the collapse of the Fretilin-led minority government, which failed to secure Parliament’s approval for its budget and program.

The country’s revenue mainly comes from its oil and gas sector, which contributed around 70 percent to gross domestic product (GDP), which in 2016 was $1.783 billion, according to the World Bank.

The story first appeared in Arab News

East Timor PM urges calm as voters await election result

East Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has urged his people to remain calm after they voted on Saturday for MPs who will determine a new prime minister and form a majority government to execute much-needed development programs in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“I appeal for the people to be calm, and for politicians and political parties to accept the results, because it was a very free and fair election. Whoever is defeated, it’s the people who really win the election,” Alkatiri said in an interview at a hotel near his Fretilin party’s headquarters.

Ballot-counting is still underway in the former Portuguese colony, but two political giants have expressed confidence that their respective party and coalition will win.

Alkatiri headed a minority government that collapsed after a three-party coalition led by former President and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao refused to approve the government’s budget.

Alkatiri said he is confident that his party will win more than 30 out of 65 seats in Parliament. His Fretilin party narrowly won the previous election in July 2017 by securing 23 seats.

“We’re already the winner,” he said after casting his vote.  “Fretilin never lost a single election throughout its history.”

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East Timor PM Mari Alkatiri talked to journalists after casting his vote in a polling station in Dili’s Farol neighborhood. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

If his party wins, Alkatiri said the next government will work “to get poor people out of poverty. This is my target for the next five years.”

Every aspect of development is crucial, but what East Timorese need most are clean water, infrastructure and community housing.

Gusmao said he is confident his coalition will get more than the 35 seats it secured in last year’s election.

There are signs of electoral fraud, such as ink that washes out quickly and people who voted twice in different places, he added.

“In some places, there were fewer ballot papers than registered voters,” he said in an interview at his party’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) headquarters.

A spokesman for Gusmao’s Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), Tiago Sarmento, said there are reports that six supporters’ homes were burnt down in Oecusse, an East Timor exclave surrounded by Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province on the western half of Timor Island.

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East Timor President Francisco Guterres (second from right) posed with election observers from Election Commission of Thailand and its chairman Supachai Somcharoen (second from left), after he cast his vote on Saturday, May 12 in Dili’s Farol neighborhood. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Luis da Costa Ximenes, an election observer and director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun, said that the group identified 107 incidents during the one-month campaign period, including verbal abuse on social media from fake accounts.

Alkatiri said the incidents were minor, and the election was held in a “very professional” way.

“Show me one election in the world that is without a single incident,” he added.

There were 784,286 registered voters out of a population of 1.2 million in East Timor, which was annexed by Indonesia for 24 years before it voted for secession in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002. Official results will be announced on May 28 after verification from the High Court.

The story first appeared in Arab News

Saudi couple meet Indonesian maid they forgave for murder of their child

A Saudi couple from Tabuk have met the Indonesian domestic helper they pardoned after she was sentenced to death for murdering their 11-month-old child in 2009.

Ghalib Nasir Al-Hamri Al-Balawi and his wife arrived in Indonesia on May 3 for a week-long stay, which included a visit to Cirebon in West Java to meet Masamah bint Raswa Sanusi and her family.

“I didn’t seek for anything else by giving her pardon but God’s mercy,” Al-Balawi said through a translator during a press conference at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta on Monday.

He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality showed by Indonesia during their first visit to the country.

Arief Hidayat, an official from the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Protection of Indonesian Citizens Abroad, said that the couple’s visit was facilitated by the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah in appreciation of the couple’s compassion and willingness to forgive Masamah.

“We took them to Cirebon by train and they were greeted by the acting Cirebon district head upon arrival,” Hidayat said, adding that they also took the couple to the safari park in Cisarua in the mountainous Puncak area, a popular destination for tourists from Middle Eastern countries.

Masamah’s lengthy trial began in 2009 after local authorities accused her of murdering Al-Balawi’s child after they found her fingerprints on the baby’s face.

Masamah has always maintained her innocence and said that she only rubbed the baby’s face after she found it unconscious. She was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 but the district attorney appealed and she was sentenced to death in 2016.

During her appeal trial in March 2017, Al-Balawi pardoned her and decided not to demand blood money, but Masamah still had to serve the remaining two and a half years of her prison sentence.

She was released from prison in January and stayed at the consulate general’s shelter until she was cleared to leave and return to Indonesia in March.

Al-Balawi and his wife’s visit came after the execution of an Indonesian national who had been working as a driver, Muhammad Zaini Misrin on March 18 after a court has found him guilty of murdering his employer in 2005. The news of Misrin’s execution caused a national outrage.

The Indonesian government said they didn’t received notification prior to his execution and said that the execution was untimely as Misrin was undergoing another legal avenue to have his case reviewed.

Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Osamah bin Mohammad Al-Shuaibi said the Saudi authorities had done their part to inform the Indonesian embassy about Misrin’s execution including a notification on the day of the execution before it was carried out.

“What we need to do now is inform those who want to visit Saudi Arabia about the law and that they have to follow the rules in Saudi Arabia. It is our duty to explain to them,” Al Shuaibi said.

“We have to respect the laws in our respective countries,” he added.

Hidayat said there are 20 Indonesians on death row in Saudi prisons and Indonesian officials in Saudi Arabia were making sure that their legal rights were met.

“But it would not annul the crimes that they committed,” he added.

This article has been expanded from its original version in Arab News

Indonesian university wages war on ISIS — with animations

Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time.

When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage “jihad”.

When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.

“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.

“This is also jihad,” he said.

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A screen grab from “Kembali dari Suriah” showing Ahmad, Udin, Ari and their teacher. The four characters appear in an animated clip aimed to counter radicalism among teenagers.

Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Suriah,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the first 20 clips in Yogyakarta.

Muhammad Wildan, Cisform’s director, said the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.

“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.

Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.

Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.

“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.

Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.

Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to ISIS online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.

“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.

She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.

A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border to Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.

“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said.

The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017.

Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges.

Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.

“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.

This story was first published in Arab News