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Indonesian court set to deliver verdict on hardline cleric accused of flouting COVID curbs

Berita 24 English - On Thursday, an Indonesian court was scheduled to deliver its verdict in a hardline Muslim cleric trial accused of viola...


Berita 24 English -
On Thursday, an Indonesian court was scheduled to deliver its verdict in a hardline Muslim cleric trial accused of violating coronavirus restrictions and inciting followers to attend mass gatherings following his self-imposed exile last year.

A live stream of the hearing showed Rizieq Shihab, the spiritual leader of an outlawed Islamist vigilante group known as the Islamic Defender's Front (FPI), dressed in a white tunic, turban, and face mask and clutching prayer beads.

Approximately 3,000 police officers were deployed to guard the East Jakarta courthouse in the run-up to the verdict.

Rizieq returned to Indonesia in November, three years after fleeing Saudi Arabia on charges of pornography and insulting the state ideology. Both charges were subsequently dismissed.

Thousands of Rizieq's supporters flocked to the airport to celebrate his return. They then joined mass events in the days that followed, despite Indonesia's coronavirus outbreak being the worst in Southeast Asia.

The cleric now faces up to two years in prison for inciting others to violate coronavirus protocols and violating health quarantine laws connected with several large events, including his daughter's wedding, which drew thousands.

Separately, he could face an additional ten months in prison for an incident at a West Java Islamic boarding school.

According to Rizieq's legal team, the cases are politically motivated and part of an effort to silence the cleric, who commands a sizable and vocal following in the world's largest Muslim majority country.

The FPI has gained political clout in recent years in Indonesia and was one of several Islamic groups that organized rallies in 2016 to bring down Jakarta's then-Christian governor on blasphemy charges. The mass protests against the governor sowed widespread anxiety within President Joko Widodo's administration about a perceived Islamist threat.

Since then, the government has sought to crack down on several Islamist organizations, including the FPI and Hizb-ut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

In December, police shot and killed six of Rizieq's supporters, claiming they acted in self-defence after being threatened with weapons. The FPI accused the police of extrajudicial executions.

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