A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, Jakarta – Indonesia has acknowledged that Singapore was within its right to bar the entry of Muslim preacher Abdul Somad Batubara earlier this week, a government official has said, after news of the divisive figure being excluded prompted threats of retaliation.
On Monday, the firebrand preacher and his entourage of six were barred entry into Singapore via the Tanah Merah ferry terminal and turned back to Indonesia.
The Singaporean Home Ministry said the reason for doing so was because Somad's sermons were "unacceptable for [the country's] multi-racial and multi-religious society".
This prompted an ultra-conservative group to consider staging a protest against the Singaporean Embassy in South Jakarta, demanding that country apologize for abusing an ustadz (Muslim teacher).
A number of Indonesian politicians, including from Muslim political parties, have also criticized Singapore's actions and even accused the country of Islamophobia.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said that any country reserves the right to deny anyone entry into its territory.
"Indonesia, as a sovereign country, also has immigration policies that can bar an individual from entering," he said at a briefing on Thursday, in response to a press question.
Faizasyah added that the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore had done its part in protecting its citizens by sending a diplomatic note seeking context for Singapore's decision.
Somad, a self-made preacher popular among Indonesia's conservative Muslims, is known as an advocate of what Singapore calls "extremist and segregationist" teachings.
He has openly denigrated non-Muslims as heretics in his sermons and was caught on video saying the Christian crucifix was the dwelling place of an "infidel jinn [demon]".
In 2018, Somad was excluded from the Religious Affairs Ministry's list of 200 moderate Islamic preachers. At one point, he was nominated by a group of Islamic preachers to be the running mate of Gerindra Party patron Prabowo Subianto but he declined the offer.
He has not made any public comments regarding Monday's incident.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry's director for overseas citizens' protection, Judha Nugraha, said that any prevailing visa-free arrangements among governments, including for all 10 ASEAN member states, did not automatically guarantee entry for anyone.
"Such an agreement does not invalidate a country's sovereign right to deny entry into its territory," he said.
Judha said the government itself had barred 452 foreigners, including Singaporeans, from entering Indonesia for various reasons as of May 17.
Unlike Muslim-majority Indonesia, Singapore has a system in place to certify Muslim preachers, in order to limit radical ideas from being spread among its multi-religious population.