By Ryan Dagur
Indonesian weekly magazine Tempo has defied radical Muslims’ demand for an apology over a cartoon which they said insulted a Muslim cleric.
In its editorial published on March 19, it insisted that it would only apologize for the impact of the cartoon’s publication on Feb. 28 “if it offends a particular group.”
“But Tempo did not apologize — let alone plead guilty — for publishing it,” it said.
On March 16, about 200 members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) rallied outside Tempo’s office to protest the cartoon of a white-robed man talking to a woman. The man says, “I’m sorry I don’t come home” and the woman replies, “What you did to me was cruel.”
The conservative group said the cartoon referred to Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, the FPI leader who is in Saudi Arabia after fleeing Indonesia in May 2017 when Jakarta police issued a warrant for his arrest over accusations of sharing pornographic material in WhatsApp chats with a female activist.
He also faces possible blasphemy charges stemming from a complaint by Catholic students who accused Shihab of ridiculing the birth of Jesus in a speech that was widely circulated on the internet.
Shihab was supposed to return to Indonesia on Feb. 21 but told supporters in a phone call that his failure to return was because he needed to seek God’s guidance. It was the fifth time he had reneged on a pledge to return to the country.
In the March 16 rally, protesters kicked tables, threw water and seized the glasses of Tempo’s editor-in-chief Arif Zulkifli.
Tempo said the action was “overdone” and claimed the demand for apology to all Muslims “certainly does not make sense.”
“How can FPI claim all Muslims have the same views, attitudes and behavior as them,” it said.
The magazine said that rejecting FPI’s request was based on the belief that “once intimidation succeeds in determining editorial decisions, the thing at stake is not just Tempo’s reputation. If it is not resisted, the intimidating actor can be addicted. The victims could be Tempo or other media. This is very harmful to press freedom and the public’s right to information.”
FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif defended his group’s actions as part of efforts to maintain the honor of clerics.
“Compared to what we do, Tempo’s actions are more dangerous and highly unjustified as they have insulted the ulema [body of Muslim scholars],” he told ucanews.com.
Ahmad Nurhasim from the Alliance of Independent Journalists said FPI must comply with the press law, which requires objections to articles to be conveyed through the right of reply, right of correction or a complaint to the press council.
“By intimidating, they have created a fearful effect among journalists and the media to be critical and independent,” Nurhasim told ucanews.com.
He said mass mobilization to force the media to acknowledge mistakes in journalistic work is anti-democratic and anti-press freedom.
Founded in 1971 by veteran journalists Goenawan Mohamad and Yusril Djalinus, Tempo is known as an investigative magazine.
During the regime of dictator Suharto, the magazine was banned along with two others as a threat to national stability. It resumed publication after Suharto’s fall.
In 2010, the magazine’s office was firebombed by two black-clad men. The attack was widely presumed to be linked to the police as it happened after the magazine published a story about police corruption.