Indonesian Islamist Delivers Rant in Court

A suspended Islamic Defenders Front leader on trial for inciting attacks against a Christian group in a city near Jakarta delivered a fire-breathing rant in court Monday, continuing to issue threats against Christian church leaders.

Murhali Barda, a former chapter leader of the hard-line group, also known by its Indonesian language initials as the FPI, warned the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) against holding prayers in Bekasi, a predominantly Muslim district in West Java. He was suspended from the Islamic organization after his arrest in September.

The FPI has increasingly worried members of other religious faiths and moderates, accosting women wearing what the organization deems provocative dress, raiding nightclubs and intimidating non-Muslims. So far, to the dismay of many, authorities have refused to crack down on the FPI.

“There are two messages I mean to send off to the HKBP. Do not repeat the same mistake again. Do not be stupid sheep wandering into the same yard after being asked to leave,” Murhali said, reading from a prepared defense statement at the Bekasi District Court.

“If you do not listen, do not blame the owner of that yard if he forces you out by throwing stones at you or beating you with a block of wood,” Murhali said.

The defendant is accused of inciting an attack against two Christian church leaders in Ciketing village on Sept. 12 through his anti-Christian statements on radio, text messages and his personal Facebook page.

Twelve others were brought to court in separate trials for the assault, which saw Asia Sihombing stabbed and the Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak beaten.

One of the suspects, Supriyanto, admitted in court that he had been inspired to violence by Murhali’s Facebook postings.

On Monday, Murhali denied spreading messages of hate through the social networking site, but described the 13 men on trial — including himself — as icons of “anti-Christianization.”

“Don’t you know Jesus had [only] 12 disciples? There are 13 of us,” he said.

“There will be 313 mujahids [holy warriors] who will be ready to fight against you. All we want is for [the HKBP] to respect us. We will not bother you if you do not bother us,” he added.

“I am not a crazy person. I am not going to blacken my [reputation] by doing something stupid [like inciting people to violence],” he said. “All I did was just an attempt to prevent efforts to Christianize people in Bekasi.”

The defendant also accused prosecutors of “manipulating the case” and twisting facts.

He ended his statement with a plea to judges “not to issue the wrong decision” in the case.

Murhali’s speech, peppered with verses from the Koran, brought many in the courtroom to tears, including his mother, his supporters and at least two police officers.

His inflammatory statements on Monday were a complete turnaround from his display in a hearing last month, when he stunned judges and the gallery by bursting into tears and advocating social harmony.

“We have to maintain harmony in society. We would not have bothered the other group if only the other group had not bothered us. All we want is to live our lives in peace,” he had said tearfully.

Prosecutors have sought a six-month jail term for Murhali for violating Criminal Code Article 335 on unpleasant conduct. He escaped heavier sanctions after assault and provocation charges against him were dropped.

Article 170 on assault and destruction of property carries a maximum penalty of five years and six months in jail, while Article 160 on written or verbal provocation carries up to six years.

Shalih Manggara Sitompul, Murhali’s lawyer, said the decision to drop the other charges proved his client’s innocence.