Gamawan issued the controversial statement, in which he described the FPI as an asset to the country, on Thursday during a national coordination meeting on urban area management in Central Jakarta.
The Minister reiterated his statement after a meeting with Vice President Boediono on Thursday evening.
“All this time we’ve painted a picture that [the FPI] is all bad. What if we involved them in community development programs?” he said.
Gamawan said that it would be better to involve the FPI in organizing events on religious holidays.
“The principle of modern society and governance is to involve uncooperative mass organizations or NGOs in development. That’s civil society,” he said. “If we work together with them, there won’t be two camps attacking one another.”
Gamawan made the statement as prosecutors sought seven-month prison sentences for two members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) charged with involvement in a deadly clash with villagers in Sukorejo, Kendal regency, Central Java, in July.
The brawl between the FPI members and Sukorejo villagers occurred as members of the FPI from Temanggung, Magelang and Yogyakarta were conducting a raid on brothels and illegal gambling in Kendal.
Following the clash, calls mounted for the disbandment of the FPI.
Members of the House of Representatives have called on the government to take stern action against the FPI, saying the Home Ministry has the authority under the newly-enacted Mass Organization Law to take action against organizations which promote violence.
Responding to the demand to disband the FPI, Gamawan has said the government could only act if it received recommendations from members of the public or the National Police.
Member of the House of Representatives Commission II overseeing home affairs Nurul Arifin slammed Gamawan’s statement.
“That means that the government should legitimize the group, that the FPI is a group to be reckoned with and considered professional,” Nurul told reporters.
Rights activist Wahyudi Djafar of human rights watchdog the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) said that Gamawan had no reason not to ban the FPI.
“The basic foundation for all government actions is the Constitution. Under the Constitution, all actions should be taken to protect the constitutional rights of citizens, So we must first see whether or not an organization respects the rights and interests of all groups and people,” Wahyudi said.
Gamawan’s statement on the FPI is the latest in a series of comments that many have regarded as unwise given his position as a key Cabinet minister.
Gamawan recently called on Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi’ Widodo to replace Lenteng Agung sub-district head Susan Jasmine Zulkifli following protests by locals who wanted her to be replaced simply because she is a Christian.
Deputy Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama hit back at Gamawan saying that the minister should study the Constitution more closely.
Recently, Gamawan has been busy countering allegations that he was involved in graft in the procurement project for the electronic ID, or e-KTP, system.
The e-KTP project has cost the state Rp 5.8 trillion (USD$527.8 million). The project was part of a government effort to establish a comprehensive database on citizens, however, it has been marred by various corruption allegations and technical faults in its implementation. The Jakarta Post