The Indonesian police have appealed to Islamic hardliners not to raid businesses to check whether Muslim employees were being forced to wear Santa Claus hats or other Christmas outfits over the festive season.
The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) warned this week that it would conduct “sweeping operations” to enforce a 2016 fatwa by the country’s Islamic Clerical Council prohibiting business owners from forcing employees to don Christmas attire. It claimed this was a violation of their human rights.
“We will raid businesses in anticipation of them being stubborn about this and we will be accompanied by police,” said Novel Bakmukmin, head of the FPI’s branch in the capital, Jakarta.
But national police chief Tito Karnavian urged members of the public to “respect other religions that are carrying out celebrations” and cautioned against taking matters into their own hands.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but it is also officially a secular state where the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The Christian minority makes up 10 per cent of the population, and Christmas is widely celebrated.
The hardline FPI, an ultra-conservative Islamist political organisation, first grabbed public attention by raiding restaurants serving alcohol during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Over the past year it also orchestrated mass demonstrations denouncing Jakarta’s Christian former governor over controversial blasphemy charges.
The FPI was founded in 1998. It operates as a political pressure group to further a right-wing Islamist agenda, but is also known for carrying out vigilante activities and projecting itself as an Islamic morality police fighting vice.
More recently the FPI has turned its attention to Christian celebrations. Last Christmas, escorted by hundreds of police, it swooped on malls in Surabaya, on the Indonesian island of Java, to check whether employers had pushed their Muslim staff to wear elf or Santa costumes.
This year the group has also demanded the Jakarta city government stop sponsoring New Year celebrations, which attract many thousands of people.
The police already plan to deploy about 90,000 officers across the country, aiming to protect end-of-year celebrations from militant attacks.
Thirteen suspected militants linked to Islamic State were arrested in pre-emptive raids earlier this month.
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Police spokesman Martinus Sitompul said that no specific terror threats had been detected since the arrests, but that security would be boosted to safeguard churches and other public places between December 22 and January 2.
In 2000, attacks on Indonesian churches on Christmas Eve killed nearly 20 people.