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FPI Threatens Ramadhan Bar Raids

Laksamana.Net - The radical Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), notorious for attacking nightlife venues in Jakarta, has warned that people will take the law into their own hands if city officials fail to close down bars and nightclubs over the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. FPI leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, currently serving a seven-month jail sentence for ordering his militant followers to attack Jakarta nightspots, on Tuesday (14/10/03) said city officials must ensure that places deemed an offense to Islam don’t operate over the fasting month, which this year starts on October 25.

"As long as my followers go out on raids to uphold the law and their faith, why should I stop them?" he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

Over recent years, Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso has issued an annual decree that prohibits nightclubs, discos, bars, saunas, massage parlors, gaming centers and brothels from operating during Ramadhan.

Many of the city’s nightspots get around the ban by posing as cafes or restaurants, which are generally permitted to operate during Ramadhan from 7.30pm to 12.30am – except over six days considered especially holy.

Sutiyoso is expected next week to issue his latest decree ordering the closure of nightspots over the fasting month.

Rizieq expressed doubt the decree would be strictly enforced. "A mere decree will be useless. Police must have the guts to arrest and prosecute people who break the law during Ramadhan," he was quoted as saying by AFP.

In Ramadhan 2002, police were noticeably stricter than in recent years in forcing bars to close after midnight, although a few venues managed to remain open, catering to the needs of the city’s alcoholics and lechers.

FPI was established in August 1998 and soon became notorious for attacking bars, nightclubs, brothels, pool halls and other entertainment venues deemed an affront to Islam.

The organization significantly toned down its violent activities after last year’s October 12 Bali nightclub bombings, which have been blamed on regional terrorism group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Prior to the Bali blasts, authorities had generally turned a blind eye to FPI’s raids on nightspots, lending credence to claims the organization was backed by powerful officials in the security forces.

Rizieq has long demanded the destruction of nightspots on the grounds that they are hangouts of prostitutes, gamblers and drug abusers. He has also instructed his followers to trash signs advertising alcohol.

At the opening of his trial in May, the cleric denied any wrongdoing and defended his actions, saying they were in line with the religious and state laws. He said managers of “immoral” nightspots and the police who protect them were the ones who should be on trial.

Critics claim that FPI has at times been in cahoots with police and soldiers, and sometimes in competition with them, to extort protection money from owners of nightspots.

Rizieq was arrested on October 16, 2002, four days after the Bali blasts, although he is not a suspect in the attacks. He was released in November and placed under house arrest after FPI pledged to end its violent raids.

But FPI in February 2003 announced it was making a comeback and threatened to attack Westerners. The group also urged Muslims to sign up to fight Americans in Iraq.

Rizieq broke the terms of his house arrest status on April 8 by leaving Indonesia, ostensibly to participate in a humanitarian mission in Iraq, although it was unclear whether he actually went there.

He was subsequently arrested upon his return to Jakarta on April 20. The following day his supporters helped him escape from police custody at a public prosecutor’s office, but he later surrendered and was sent to jail.

On August 11, 2003, he was sentenced to seven months behind bars for inciting public unrest and insulting the government. He is due for release in November, having already spent six months behind bars.

Rizieq is one of several high-profile Muslim radicals to be jailed as part of the government’s effort to crack down on Islamic extremism. Abu Bakar Baasyir, alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, was recently sentenced to four years in jail for treason.

Several of his followers are among more than 30 suspects accused of responsibility for the Bali bombings. Already 20 people have been convicted of involvement in the bombings, with sentences ranging from three years to death.

Jafar Umar Thalib, leader of the now defunct Islamic militia organization Laskar Jihad, was in January 2003 acquitted by East Jakarta District Court on charges of fomenting religious violence in the Maluku islands and inciting hatred of the government and president.

The verdict raised serious doubts over whether Indonesia was serious about tackling criminal acts involving Islamic radicalism and communal violence. These doubts were reiterated when Baasyir received his four-year sentence in August. Critics slammed the verdict as “lenient” and criticized state prosecutors for failing to prove the cleric had ordered terrorist attacks.