Category: Politics

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.

Indonesia to allow tariff-free import of Palestinian dates, olive oil

Indonesia and Palestine have signed an agreement that will allow for zero tariffs on some Palestinian goods imported into Indonesia from next month.

The agreement serves as the implementing guidelines that follows the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last December. The MoU allows zero import tariffs for certain goods between the two countries.

“It will be one-way trade from Palestine to Indonesia at the start, but we expect in the future it will be a two-way trade,” the Trade Ministry’s Director General for International Trade Negotiations Iman Pambagyo said.

The initial Palestinian products that will be exempted from import tariffs are fresh and dried dates and virgin olive oil. Pambagyo said that, during the first year of the agreement, dates imported from Palestine are estimated to increase by 11.62 percent, while olive oil is estimated to jump by 172 percent, as a lot of Indonesian cosmetic manufacturers use olive oil as an ingredient in their products.

“We will encourage our importers to benefit from this policy by sourcing their olive oil and dates from Palestine,” Pambagyo added.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the business community welcomed the agreement and its upcoming implementation.

“We have always encouraged the government to expedite the MoU implementation. This policy would be beneficial for importers since it would make the products more competitive in the domestic market,” he said.

He added the policy will not hit other imported goods, given the big market opportunities for dates, which are widely consumed by Indonesians.

Lukita and Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun signed the agreement on Monday following the ratification of the MoU into a presidential regulation in April.

The finance minister will allow the MoU to fully take effect by issuing two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Pambagyo said these regulations will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Lukita said this policy was part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for the Palestinian issue, which has always been the focus of its foreign policy.

Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian independence and has pledged to focus on voicing support for Palestine during its tenure as a non-permanent member at the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

Read the full story in Arab News

Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.

She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians to enter Israel.

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“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally said.

“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.

Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, said the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.

“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.

Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancellation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.

“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.

Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.

The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.

“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.

The story first appeared 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

Indonesia rebuffs claims it issues tourist visas for Israelis

The Indonesian government said Sunday it was not issuing tourist visas for Israeli passport holders, debunking a report from an Israeli news outlet, which claimed that it was accepting applications for tourist visas from Israelis.

Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the immigration department of Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said that there was no tourist visa specifically for Israelis as Indonesia already has a free-visa policy for nationals from 169 countries to enter the country for tourist or leisure purposes.

Israel is not included on the list since Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Our visa policy has not change in accordance with our foreign policy,” Sampurno said.

Israeli news portal Haaretz.com reported on Thursday that Israelis could soon see the “gorgeous destinations” that they “could only see in the movies” by applying for a tourist visa to Indonesia beginning on May 1, and the report described the process as “expensive and lengthy.”

According to the report – which did not provide information from the Indonesian authorities – Israelis can apply for the visa through the “Israel Indonesia Agency” and that “talks are underway to let Israelis get their Indonesia visa in Israel.”

“The news report that said Indonesia was giving out tourist visas to Israel is a hoax” Sampurno said.

The agency’s website was still accessible on Friday but was no longer so on Sunday. According to the website, a single-entry visa costs applicants $135, with which they can stay for 30 days, and an extension for another 30 days will cost applicants $35.

According to the website, “in April 2018, the Ministry of Immigration of the Republic of Indonesia decided to open up a temporary visa quota for Israeli passports to travel to Indonesia under all foreign visa categories to determine the impact and potential of increased bilateral relations between the nations.”

It also featured pictures of a white sandy beach with turquoise blue water and a destination believed to be Raja Ampat, a cluster of 1,500 jungle-covered small islands known as a diver’s paradise and located on West Papua province on the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago.

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Screenshots from the now-defunct Israel Indonesia Agency website, which claimed it offered assistance for Israeli passport holders to secure tourist visas to Indonesia.

“There is no such ‘Ministry of Immigration’ in Indonesia,” Sampurno said.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said the Indonesian government institution in charge of any immigration issues is the Directorate General of Immigration, which is part of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

“The Directorate General of Immigration of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia neither recognize nor has relations with Israel Indonesia Agency.”

The statement also said the information in the agency’s website was “wrong and misleading” and that the only way for Israeli passport holders to secure Indonesian visa was through the “calling visa” process.

Sampurno said the calling visa mechanism is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations.

The decision to grant a calling visa involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

“The visa holder’s whereabouts is limited to a certain place. For example, if the holder stated in the application the place would be in Jakarta, the visa holder can’t go further even to the suburbs of Jakarta and the visa holder can only enter Indonesia through Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport,” Sampurno said.

“There will also be constant monitoring from the authorities to the calling visa holder,” he added.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

Indonesian LGBT community wins respite from criminalization

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia can breathe a sigh of relief, at least temporarily, as the House of Representatives has put on hold for the next few months the passage of revisions to the Criminal Code which include articles that would criminalize gay sex and extramarital sex.

Teuku Taufiqulhadi, a member of the House of Representatives’ working committee deliberating the bill, said the revisions were almost final but some articles required approval from different factions in Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, justice, human rights and security.

The bill was previously scheduled to be passed into law through the House’s plenary session in February but was sidelined after a public outcry over several controversial articles, as lawmakers and government were finalizing the 12-year deliberation to amend the penal code originally written by the Dutch during the colonial era.

“We are giving more time in the next two or three months for the public to provide feedback on the bill to us,” said Taufiqulhadi, a legislator from the National Democratic Party.

The most recent feedback came from the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI). They met lawmakers earlier this month to convey their recommendations and urged the parliament and President Joko Widodo to soon enact regulations that could criminalize and contain deterrents to LGBT activities. They also recommended that homosexuality should be categorized as a mental illness.

“Adulterers, lesbians, gay men and other deviant sexual activities should be severely punished, as well as those who advocate, facilitate, provide funding or groups that take economic and political advantage from the deviant sexual behavior,” Sri Astuti Buchari, a deputy chairwoman at ICMI said during a discussion on Apr. 6.

She also called for greater cooperation to block pornography and LGBT channels on social media platforms and the internet.

Some of the most controversial articles in the bill, known by its acronym KUHP, are those regulating general morality. The articles included an expanded definition of adultery and gay sex between consenting adults, with heavier sentences for violations. The revisions, which will seek a five-year prison term for adultery and one year for couples accused of cohabitation, were made following request from the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a mounting push from religious conservative groups.

Under the current Criminal Code, consensual same-sex relations are not treated as crimes, except in Aceh where the province has a special autonomy to impose shariah law.

An article that previously only criminalized only paedophiles has been expanded to also criminalize all gay sex between consenting adults.

“We continue to push for the removal of the specific mention of sexual orientation in the proposed article. As long as the sex is non-consentual or with a minor, it should be enough to constitute a crime,” said Anggara, the executive director of Jakarta-based rights advocacy group Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR).

The morality articles have been criticized for meddling too much in citizens’ private lives and creating potential of new crimes at a time when law enforcement agencies are already overwhelmed and understaffed in the face of more pressing offenses such as drugs, human trafficking or terrorism. Correctional facilities are also bursting at the seams with overpopulation.

Arsul Sani, a legislator from the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) and member of the working committee vetting the bill, defended the expanded definition of adultery to include gay sex and extramarital sex, saying it reflected the people’s philosophical, social and cultural values.

Sani said in February after the House plenary session that the proposed morality article would prevent ‘street justice’ or people taking matters into their own hands to harass those engaged in sexual activity they disapproved of, even if it is between consenting adults.

“It is necessary to expand the fornication article to not just criminalize adultery between members of the opposite sex but also between those of the same-sex,” he said.

“It was first proposed three years ago. Why make a fuss about it now when the bill is about to be passed into law?” he added.

Dede Oetomo, a Surabaya-based gay rights activist, acknowledged growing anxiety in the community over the rising hostility encountered in recent years, in contrast to the tolerance seen in the past.

Oetomo, an adviser to gay rights advocacy group GaYa Nusantara, said that the community had been optimistic that tolerance towards them would prevail, especially after President Joko Widodo was elected in 2014, as they believed he would push for greater democratization.

“We had big expectations because he is not from the old regime or a former military man but apparently we were wrong,” Oetomo said.

“Even before this talk about the proposed LGBT clause in the revised draft of the penal code, we have continued to encounter growing verbal and physical hostility since mid 2015,” he said, noting that the worrying trend coincided with the growing clout of religious conservatives in Indonesia.

Despite the unfavorable outlook, Oetomo said LGBT people continued about their regular daily lives and to hope they would not encounter harassment by police or intolerant groups.

In October, police officers raided a gay sauna in Central Jakarta and apprehended 51 men including seven foreigners, only to release most of them on the following day, while five employees were prosecuted for providing prostitution and pornography. It followed a raid in May in North Jakarta on a shophouse where gay men were gathering at a sauna. Police arrested 141 men but 126 were released the next day while 10 were prosecuted for violations of the 2008 anti-pornography law.

Surveys carried by Jakarta-based pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting paint a mix picture of public opinion in the world’s largest Muslim majority country, and one long seen as moderate and tolerant.

In a poll taken in March 2016, 47.5 percent of respondents who know or have heard about LGBT agreed that same-sex relations are forbidden by religion while 34 percent said they totally agreed with that view.

But in surveys taken in September and December last year, a large majority of the 1,220 respondents saw the LGBT community as a threat. In the December survey, 87.6 percent said they felt threatened by LGBT people, up from 85.4 percent in September.

More than half of the respondents, or 53.3 percent, said they could not accept if a member of their families was gay and 79.1 percent objected to having LGBT people as neighbors.

However, 57.7 percent of the respondents also acknowledged that LGBT people have the right to live in the country and 50 percent agreed the government should ensure that LGBT people’s rights are protected.

“The majority of citizens also object if a LGBT person becomes a government official, such as mayor, governor, or president,” said Ade Armando, the director of the polling firm.

“Even though the public views the LGBT people negatively and is being discriminative by refusing to support them to become public officials, the public does not discriminate when it comes to LGBT people living as regular citizens,” Armando added.

The article was first published in the Bangkok Post