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Protests at Singapore’s embassy in Jakarta, consulate-general in Medan over decision to deny preacher entry

JAKARTA — Protests were held at the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the Singapore consulate-general in Medan on Friday (May 20), after Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara was denied entry to Singapore and sent back to Batam earlier in the week. 

Protests at Singapore’s embassy in Jakarta, consulate-general in Medan over decision to deny preacher entry

Mr Somad arrived at Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on May 16 but was denied entry and sent back to Batam on the same day.

  • Protests were held at the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the Singapore consulate-general in Medan on Friday (May 20)
  • The protesters were members of the Islamic Sharia Ideology Defenders
  • They called for condemnation of Singapore’s decision to deny entry to the preacher Abdul Somad Batubara
  • TODAY understands Somad has previously been prevented from entering other countries, including Timor-Leste, The Netherlands and Germany

JAKARTA — Protests were held at the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the Singapore consulate-general in Medan on Friday (May 20), after Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara was denied entry to Singapore and sent back to Batam earlier in the week. 

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said that Somad has been known to preach "extremist and segregationist" teachings.

According to Indonesian media outlet Detik, the protest in front of the embassy started around 2.20pm local time on Friday with protesters carrying the Indonesian flag and handing out flyers listing their demands.  

The protesters, who are members of the Islamic Sharia Ideology Defenders (Perisai), called for condemnation of Singapore’s decision to deny entry to the preacher. 

They demanded that the Singapore embassy in Jakarta provide clarification over the incident and apologise openly. The group also called for Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia to be asked to leave the country. 

Local district police chief Agung Permana reportedly said 50 officers were deployed to maintain order.

Protesters continued to demonstrate despite the rain. They disbanded around 4.10pm (local time), according to the Detik report.

"The actions by Singapore suggest that they are openly accusing Somad of being a radical. Somad is accused by Singapore of being a terrorist,” a protester Muhammad Saleh was reported as saying by Detik.

CNA has contacted Jakarta police for comments.

The protest in Medan was larger. Protestors gathered at a mosque and marched toward the Singapore consulate-general, demanding that Singapore be held accountable for "deporting" Somad, CNA understands.

Some protesters carried banners with messages such as "boycott Singapore products" and "expel Singapore ambassador".

CNN Indonesia reported that the protesters were members of the Alliance of Islamic Organisations of North Sumatra. 

A representative from the group reportedly said that Singapore’s decision had hurt the feelings of Muslims and affected Indonesia’s sovereignty.

"We are a big country. Singapore is a small country. (Both) should stand upright together," he reportedly said.

"He is not a criminal. In fact, he is quote and unquote, a high-class citizen because he is an intellectual … Everything he said is based on strong academic grounds. Don't let assumptions make someone to be treated unfairly," he added, according to CNN Indonesia.

CNA understands that at the demonstrators’ request, Singapore’s Consul-General in Medan Richard Grosse met the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council in Medan Dr Hassan Maksum. The meeting took place in the presence of local police without incident.

Medan police chief Valentino Alfa Tatareda told CNA that the protest was peaceful.

“We didn't deploy that many officers to safeguard the protest. There was no excessive security. Some officers were only deployed to redirect traffic,” he said.

On Tuesday, MHA said that Somad, who arrived in Singapore on May 16, was denied entry and sent back to Batam on the same day with six other people who travelled with him. 

Somad has been known to preach "extremist and segregationist" teachings, which are "unacceptable in Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society", MHA said in a statement. 

"For example, Somad has preached that suicide bombings are legitimate in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and are considered 'martyrdom' operations.

"He has also made comments denigrating members of other faith communities, such as Christians, by describing the Christian crucifix as the dwelling place of an 'infidel jinn (spirit/demon)'," said MHA.

It added that Somad has also publicly referred to non-Muslims as “kafirs”, or infidels.

"While Somad had attempted to enter Singapore ostensibly for a social visit, the Singapore Government takes a serious view of any persons who advocate violence and/or espouse extremist and segregationist teachings," said MHA.

SINGAPORE MONITORING SITUATION AT OVERSEAS MISSIONS IN INDONESIA

Singapore's Government is closely monitoring the situation at its overseas missions in Indonesia, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Saturday.

It noted MHA's statement on Tuesday setting out Singapore's position on the matter.

"A visitor’s entry into Singapore is neither automatic nor a right. Each case is assessed on its own merits. The Singapore Government takes a serious view of any persons who advocate violence and/or espouse extremist and segregationist teachings," said MFA.

On Wednesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said that the social media accounts of a number of political office holders and government agencies have been spammed by Somad’s supporters.

Indonesia’s counter-terror agency subsequently told CNA that Singapore’s decision to deny entry to Somad is an important lesson for Indonesia to take precautions in prohibiting radical views.

CNA understands that the Indonesian government has reaffirmed Singapore’s sovereign right to decide who it would allow entry, and that Indonesia could not intervene in Singapore’s decision.

TODAY understands Somad has previously been prevented from entering other countries. For instance, in 2018 he was prevented from entering Timor-Leste by airport officials due to terrorism-related concerns.

In 2018, he tried to visit the Netherlands by transiting through Switzerland, but was denied access by Swiss immigration officials on the grounds that he did not possess the necessary documentation to enter the Schengen area, TODAY understands. He was also refused entry to Germany in 2019 while on a layover.

'WILL NOT GIVE UP TRYING'

Somad said he will not give up trying to visit Singapore, describing the country as Malay land similar to Riau where he is from.

In a YouTube video on Wednesday, Abdul Somad Batubara said people in Riau see Singapore as part of their land because Singapore was part of the Temasek Malay kingdom. 

"To say that I'm tired of going to Singapore is the same as saying I'm tired of going to Minangkabau. This is because Singapore is a Malay land. My grandmother has brothers, children and grandchildren who live in Singapore,” he added.

Somad said his intention in visiting Singapore recently was to have his wife and children get to know their ancestors. CNA

For more stories like this, visit cna.asia.

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