Indonesia declares German diplomat persona non grata

Published: 12 January 2021 Author: Stefan Talmon

The Islamic Defenders Front, commonly known by its Indonesian acronym, FPI, is a controversial and politically influential hardline Islamist group. Founded in 1998, the FPI has gained notoriety for intolerant views against people of different faiths and vandalism on businesses such as bars and brothels they consider an affront to the Islamic law. On 10 November 2020, the spiritual leader of the group, Muslim cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, returned to Indonesia from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia to rapturous crowds,  and called for a “moral revolution”. The return raised concerns of reigniting tensions between the largely secular government and the FPI in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country. On 7 December 2020, six FPI supporters were killed in a shootout with police; five days later, Rizieq was arrested for breaching coronavirus restrictions by holding gatherings of thousands of people. On 18 December 2020, the FPI staged a protest in Central Jakarta demanding an investigation into the death of the six FPI members and the release of the FPI leader Rizieq Shihab. On 30 December 2020, the Indonesian Government outlawed the FPI with immediate effect. It was stated that nearly 30 of its leaders, members and former members had been convicted on terrorism charges and because the group conflicted with the nation’s State ideology, Pancasila, which emphasises unity and diversity.

Against this background, a member of the German Embassy to Indonesia with the rank of Second Secretary visited the headquarters of the FPI in Central Jakarta on 17 December 2020. The visit was made public on social media by the FPI, which claimed that the German diplomat wanted to understand the FPI first-hand and that she had conveyed empathy for their leader Rizieq Shihab. The General Secretary of the FPI also stated that the “international attention to the extrajudicial killings of six martyrs will have an impact on Indonesia’s reputation in the international world.”

On 20 December 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Indonesia summoned the Chargé d’affaires of Germany to Indonesia to seek clarification of the purpose of the visit of the German diplomat and to convey the government’s protest of the visit. After the meeting, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release, which read in the relevant part as follows:

“2. […] The Chargé d’affaires stated that the presence of the staff at the Secretariat was a personal initiative without the knowledge of the Chargé d’affaires of Germany nor under the instruction from the Embassy.

3. The Chargé d’affaires expressed his apologies and regrets for the incident.

4. The Chargé d’affaires of Germany also denied various statements made by one of the leaders of the organization. He stressed that the incident does not reflect the policies of the Government and Embassy of Germany. He firmly denied that the presence of one of the Embassy’s staff was a form of Germany’s support for the organization.

5. The Embassy of Germany firmly expressed the support and commitment of Government of Germany to continue bilateral cooperation with Indonesia in fighting intolerance, radicalism, and hate speech.

6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Indonesia demanded the Embassy of Germany to issue an official public statement as explained to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

7. The Embassy of Germany stated that the diplomatic staff has been requested to return to Germany immediately, to take responsibility for her actions and provide clarification to the Government of Germany.”

The diplomat in question returned to Germany on 21 December 2020. After her departure, it was reported in the local media that the person was in fact a member of the German Federal Intelligence Service working under diplomatic cover in Indonesia.

In a video released by the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 29 December 2020, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, provided an explanation of her government’s follow-up action in handling the visit by the German diplomat to the FPI headquarters. She said:

“Following up on the meeting we had with the German Embassy, I can say that the staff left Indonesia on 21 December 2020. After that, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also communicated with the German Government through the capital and the German Embassy in Jakarta. In this communication, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveyed a decision that the Indonesian Government did not want the person concerned to return to Indonesia.”

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s Director General of Information and Public Diplomacy explained that the “attitude of the Government asking those concerned not to return to Indonesia can be interpreted as persona non grata [declaration].”

Declaring a diplomat persona non grata means that the person is no longer welcome in the receiving State. According to Article 9(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a receiving State may at any time, and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that a member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata. While persona non grata declarations are usually directed at diplomat agents present in the receiving State with the consequence that they must be recalled, such declarations may also be made with regard to diplomats that have not yet arrived in the territory of the receiving State or have already left. In that case, the diplomat may not come or return to the receiving State. The sending State must terminate the individual’s diplomatic functions.

Category: Diplomatic and consular relations

DOI: 10.17176/20220627-173055-0

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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