By Rina Chadijah
Indonesian police said they shot dead six supporters of hardline Muslim cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab during a confrontation on a highway outside Jakarta, in the first bloodshed since tensions rose after he came home last month from self-exile abroad.
The early morning shooting occurred when police officers riding in a car trailing the preacher’s motorcade were attacked by a group of his supporters from the Muslim Defenders’ Front (FPI), the organization which Rizieq leads, police said. But an FPI official claimed it was the police who attacked the motorcade, and that its six slain members were unarmed victims of an extrajudicial killing.
The officers were following Rizieq’s motorcade because they had received information that his supporters were planning a protest at police headquarters in Jakarta during the day on Monday, the chief of police in the nation’s capital said. The preacher had been called in for questioning then over allegations that FPI violated COVID-19 restrictions at rallies held last month, Jakarta police chief Muhammad Fadil Imran said.
“It started with information from various sources that there would be a mobilization of people during the questioning of MRS [Muhammad Rizieq Shihab] at the Jakarta police headquarters,” Fadil said at a press conference, explaining why a police car was following the motorcade.
“Our officers, whose lives were in danger, took firm and measured action, resulting in the death of six of 10 followers of MRS who attacked them.”
No officers were injured in the incident, Fadil said, adding that police were looking for the four other alleged attackers.
Munarman, general secretary for FPI, an anti-vice group that Rizieq founded, disputed the police’s account. He accused officers of kidnapping the men and killing them.
It was police who opened fire and rammed their car into the motorcade, he said. An FPI statement on Monday said the motorcade included Rizieq’s infant grandson.
“In human rights terms, these are extrajudicial killings and those who did this must be legally accountable,” Munarman told reporters.
“At one point, one of our members left a voice note in which he was heard crying out in pain. This means that our members were taken to a place and were killed there,” Munarman said, referring to a WhatsApp voicemail feature. He didn’t specify who the message was for.
He denied that the FPI men were carrying weapons, and said he believed that “unidentified thugs” were trailing the motorcade.
“We have no access to firearms. All of our members are banned from carrying weapons, let alone firearms,” Murnaman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told reporters.
FPI’s statement said the unidentified people intended “to harm” Rizieq who “had been under surveillance.”
The organization’s initial statement after the nighttime incident said that six of its members were kidnapped. FPI found out they have been killed after police held a press conference on Monday afternoon.
For their part, police said that a car carrying FPI supporters rammed into and stopped the police vehicle, which following the motorcade. Moments later gunshots were fired at the officers, police said.
At the press conference, police displayed a katana sword – a single-edged Japanese weapon – two sickles and two handguns allegedly used by the slain men.
FPI’s Munarman said Rizieq was on his way out of Jakarta to a private religious study session in West Java when police followed his motorcade in the middle of the night.
Violating COVID-19 restrictions
After the violent confrontation on the road, Rizieq failed to show up at the Jakarta police headquarters on Monday for questioning over alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions in November.
Police had sought to question Rizieq over allegations that he violated social-distancing rules by organizing gatherings attended by thousands of his supporters in Jakarta and in Bogor, West Java.
Thousands of Rizieq’s supporters had also gathered at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on Nov. 10 to welcome his return to Indonesia after three years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia.
On Nov. 22, the health ministry said that 80 coronavirus cases had been linked to the gatherings in Jakarta and Bogor.
Rizieq last week apologized for leading gatherings that flouted coronavirus restrictions.
He added in his broadcast on Dec. 2 that he had cancelled all plans to attend public events.
On Monday, Rizieq’s lawyer Aziz Yanuar said the cleric was still recuperating after being treated in a hospital for exhaustion late last month.
“He is not sick, he is recovering. But he is tired, so he needs some rest,” Aziz told reporters at police headquarters.
Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said investigators would “press ahead” with the investigation.
The capital’s police chief, Fadil, urged Rizieq to cooperate.
“We call on MRS to immediately answer the summons and be a good citizen. Do not mobilize the masses,” he said.
Indonesia recorded 5,754 new coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total to 581,550 – the most in East Asia, according to date from disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The virus-related death toll rose by 127 to 17,867.
Calls for independent probe
Meanwhile, the government faced calls for an independent and open investigation into the killings of the six FPI members.
“The investigation must be transparent without any intervention from any party,” Habiburrahman, a central lawmaker from the Gerindra Party, said in a statement on Monday.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International also issued a statement.
“Police must be open and transparent about the incident and what led to the use of firearms against the supporters of FPI leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab. The incident should be independently investigated and if the police officers violated international standards regarding the use of force and firearms, they should be brought to justices,” Amnesty said.
However, the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives, Aziz Syamsuddin, said he supported the action taken by the police.
“When it comes to law enforcement, we will support [the police],” said Aziz, who is a member of the Golkar Party, which is part of the ruling coalition headed by Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDIP.
“Let law enforcement authorities carry out an investigation,” Aziz added. “It is important for law enforcement personnel to act in a firm and measured manner in accordance with the law.”