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Jakarta Post

'Rizieq not a threat to my country': Saudi envoy says

  • Kharishar Kahfi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, November 13, 2018   /   09:19 pm
'Rizieq not a threat to my country': Saudi envoy says Rizieq Shihab (center) and Golkar lawmaker Bambang Soesatyo talk to thousands of protesters as they participate in a rally in front of the House of Representatives building in Jakarta, on Feb. 21, 2017. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The Saudi envoy to Indonesia said on Tuesday that despite the controversy Muhammad Rizieq Shihab caused by flying a black Islamic flag at the rear of his residence in Mecca, the firebrand Indonesian cleric had not broken any laws.

On Nov. 5, Saudi security authorities questioned Rizieq, who is in self-exile in the country, because of reports from local residents about a black flag resembling ones used by extremist Islamic groups that was spotted hanging from the wall of the cleric’s house. The flag in question was a black flag with the Arabic inscription of the tawhid text, the Muslim doctrine of the oneness of God. Similar flags have been used by several Islamist groups, including the Islamic State (IS) movement.

Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Usamah Muhammad Al-Syuaiby said the tawhid has a significant meaning for Muslims, but displaying it on a flag was not necessarily a criminal act. 

“If we find such a flag being installed on someone’s wall as a picture or anything else, we need to find out who is doing such a thing,” the ambassador said during a press briefing at the headquarters of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization.

The ambassador met with high-ranking officials of Muhammadiyah and they talked about Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Indonesia and the organization.

“Are you a criminal for installing the flag on your house? I don’t think so,” he said.

However, Al-Syuaiby did not address the fact that the Indonesian government compared the flag on Rizieq’s house to those flown by IS terrorists.

Last week, Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Agus Maftuh Abegebriel told journalists he had received reports on the questioning and detention of the cleric. He said the embassy staff were informed that the Mecca Police went to Rizieq’s house on the morning of Nov. 5 to “investigate the allegation of the installation of a black flag that resembles the flag of Islamist extremist groups on the rear side of his house”.

Later that afternoon, Mecca Police and Saudi Arabia’s General Investigation Directorate questioned Rizieq at a nearby police station, where he was eventually detained. Indonesia’s representative office in Jeddah dispatched staff to provide legal assistance to Rizieq, whom Saudi authorities released on bail at about 8 p.m. local time on Nov. 6.

According to the Indonesian embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has banned the installation of flags and other materials resembling those used by extremist groups, including IS.

Rizieq, the leader of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), has been in Saudi Arabia for more than a year. He was charged by Indonesian police for violating the 2008 Pornography Law in May 2017 and fled to Saudi Arabia, refusing to return to Indonesia. The police dropped the case in June, citing a lack of evidence.

In September, the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh said Rizieq had overstayed his visa for the country. The statement was issued in response to complaints from his supporters who claimed that his activities were being restricted in Mecca.

Al-Syuaiby, however, said the cleric has not violated any laws while staying in Saudi Arabia.

“I think Rizieq is not a threat to my country. If he had violated any laws, he would have undergone a legal process. Rizieq doesn’t have problems,” the ambassador said.