Habib arrives to inaugurate a mosque in Bogor on November 13, 2020. – AFP photo
JAKARTA: A burning Indonesian cleric has been jailed for holding sermons and other gatherings that drew tens of thousands of followers, breaking virus restrictions in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. month pronounced Thursday against Rizieq Shihab comes several months after the outlawing of Indonesia. his influential Islamic Front of Islamic Defenders (FPI) after a deadly shootout between the police and his supporters. The East Jakarta District Court on Thursday jailed Shihab for urging his supporters to attend sermons, a Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebration and his daughter’s wedding. All of them drew huge crowds to a country hit hard by the pandemic.
“The accused was found guilty of violating health protocols,” Judge Suparman Nyompa said at the hearing. Shihab was also fined 20 million rupees ($ 1,400). But his prison sentence would be reduced to three months to take into account the time already served, the court said. Five other senior FPI members were each sentenced to eight months in prison for organizing the mass rallies. About 2,300 security personnel were deployed around the courthouse to keep Shihab supporters at bay, with nearly two dozen detained briefly, local media reported.
Shihab – who has served prison time in the past, including for an attack by FPI members at an interfaith rally in 2008 – has denied the latest charges and said he can appeal. His arrest in December came as police in Jakarta shot dead six FPI supporters in a road shootout that authorities described as an act of self-defense – a claim disputed by the group. The charismatic Islamic leader fled to Saudi Arabia shortly after police named him a suspect in a pornography case in 2017, and he remained in self-imposed exile for three years. These charges were dropped. Upon returning to Indonesia in November, Shihab was greeted by tens of thousands of followers at Jakarta Airport, in violation of a Covid-19 ban on gatherings. Shihab’s FPI was known to have targeted nightclubs and other establishments it deemed “immoral”, and also attacked minority Muslim sects it considered “deviant”. The cleric was among the main figures behind the mass rallies in 2016 against then-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over allegations he insulted the Quran. Basuki, who is a Christian, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.