Indonesia jails senior member of Islamist group on militancy charges

File photo of Islam Defenders Front's Munarman (left) arriving at the Jakarta's Police headquarters on Dec 12, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - An Indonesian court on Wednesday (April 6) sentenced a senior member of an outlawed hardline Islamist group to three years in prison for "consciously aiding terrorism actors".

The case against Munarman, a former secretary-general and spokesperson of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), follows the jailing last year of FPI leader, Rizieq Shihab, for spreading false information about Covid-19.

Followers of the controversial organisation have said the cases are politically motivated. The FPI was outlawed by President Joko Widodo's government in 2020, clipping its wings as it was gaining political influence in the Muslim-majority country.

"(We) hereby declare the defendant has been law guilty of committing acts of terrorism," the judge presiding over the Jakarta court said in a hearing that was streamed by news channel Kompas TV.

Munarman was found to have abetted "terrorism actors" by "concealing information on terrorism acts", another judge added.

Over the years, the FPI had gained a reputation for raiding bars and brothels and violently confronting religious minorities. But it also built support among some low-income citizens for its charity work like distributing aid during natural disasters.

Its clout was on display in 2016, when Rizieq spearheaded massive protests against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok, Jakarta's then-governor, a Christian who was subsequently jailed for insulting Islam.

That case exposed deep religious rifts and identity politics in Indonesia, a country with a long history of pluralism.

Shortly after those protests, President Jokowi vowed to "clobber" any group threatening to destroy that tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam.

Munarman's lawyer, Aziz Yanuar, said they would appeal the verdict, adding his client was "relaxed" after the sentencing.

Prosecutors had accused Munarman, who was arrested last year, of rallying support for the ultra-violent group, Islamic State, and called for an eight-year sentence. Munarman, who goes by one name, has denied the charges.

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