Indonesian Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab has been arrested in Jakarta on suspicion of breaching restrictions meant to check the spread of coronavirus by holding events that drew thousands of followers in the city, his lawyer said.
Indonesian police were investigating the provocative and politically influential cleric for violating Covid-19 control measures after several mass gatherings were held to celebrate his return from self-exile in Saudi Arabia last month.
Rizieq’s lawyer, Aziz Yanuar, said his team would file a pre-trial motion to seek the release of the cleric, who was arrested after appearing at a police station in the capital earlier in the day.
Local media cited Jakarta police as saying Rizieq, who heads the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), had been charged with the obstruction of law enforcement and incitement of criminal acts.
He arrived at Jakarta police headquarters a day after police warned they would arrest him for ignoring several summonses, and he told reporters that he never ran away or hid from police.
Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus told a news conference on Friday that Rizieq is accused of ignoring measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 by holding an event to commemorate Prophet Mohammed’s birthday and the wedding of his daughter last month, which pulled in thousands of his supporters.
- Six of Rizieq’s supporters were killed in a shootout with police on Monday
- His Islamic Defender’s Front has a reputation for raiding bars and brothels and violently cracking down on religious minorities
- Indonesia has recorded 611,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 18,600 deaths
He said Rizieq could face up to six years in prison if found guilty of inciting people to violate health regulations amid an outbreak.
His presence in several events in Jakarta and West Java attracted large crowds with attendants visibly ignoring physical distancing and many failing to wear masks.
The arrest came after six of Rizieq’s supporters were killed in a shootout with police on Monday.
Indonesia has recorded 6,11,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 18,600 deaths.
With a reputation for raiding bars, brothels and violently cracking down on religious minorities, the FPI has become politically influential in recent years.
In 2016, Rizieq was the figurehead of the mass 212 movement against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who was jailed on blasphemy charges for insulting Islam.
The mass rallies raised concern about the rise of identity politics and political Islam in Indonesian affairs.
When he landed in Jakarta on November 10, tens of thousands of his supporters flocked to the airport, ignoring health protocols as they clamoured to greet him.