Indonesia police to block mass rally amid Covid-19 pandemic and return of controversial leader

The planned rally next month coincides with the return of FPI's controversial leader Rizieq Shihab (centre). PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesian police have said it will not allow the so-called "212 reunion rally" to take place next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We will not allow (it). We will not issue the permit and we have been clear on the matter," national police spokesman Brigadier General Awi Setiyono said at a press conference broadcast by KompasTV on Tuesday (Nov 17).

He said said national police chief General Idham Azis has firmly ordered the chiefs of all regional police and officers on the ground to enforce health protocols indiscriminately to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"If anyone still gathers, we will disperse them. This is a very clear order from the chief," Brig-Gen Awi said.

The 212 Alumni Brotherhood recently announced that it would stage a mass reunion at the National Monument square in Central Jakarta.

The group, which is closely associated with the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), was a driving force behind the original rally on Dec 2, 2016 - hence the 212 name - involving hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims.

The rally organisers had demanded action against then-Jakarta's governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian eventually jailed for blasphemy in a case that drew international condemnation.

The plan to hold the rally next month coincided with the return last week of Rizieq Shihab, FPI's controversial leader, after a three-year self-exile in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Rizieq's return on Nov 10 caught public attention as thousands of his supporters gathered around Jakarta's main airport to welcome him, causing traffic congestion and disrupting flights.

Most of his supporters were not wearing masks or practising social distancing amid the pandemic. Indonesia has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases in South-east Asia.

Mr Rizieq, the firebrand leader popular with conservative Muslims in the country, again drew public ire after he gathered huge crowds - again, with no health protocols in place - last week during the commemoration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday and the wedding of his daughter last weekend at Tanah Abang, Jakarta.

The Jakarta Public Order Agency has ordered Mr Rizieq to pay a 50 million rupiah (S$4,800) fine, while epidemiologists have criticised the police and top officials for allowing the event to take place.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who had benefited from the FPI-organised mass rallies against Mr Basuki whom he defeated in the 2017 election, has been summoned for questioning related to the case by Jakarta police.

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