Indonesia's controversial cleric Rizieq fined $4,735 for breaching Covid-19 safety rules

Indonesia's radical cleric Rizieq Shihab greets people as he arrives at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on Nov 10. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) has slapped Indonesia's controversial cleric Rizieq Shihab with a 50 million rupiah (S$4,735) fine after finding the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader guilty of disregarding Covid-19 health protocol when organising a public event that attracted large crowds over the weekend.

Jakarta Satpol PP head Arifin said in a letter addressed to Rizieq that the latter had violated physical distancing measures currently in effect to prevent coronavirus transmission among the public.

Arifin said Satpol PP held Rizieq, along with the FPI, responsible for not limiting the number of guests attending his daughter's wedding, which also served to commemorate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta on Saturday evening (Nov 14).

The event, he said, was in violation of Jakarta Gubernatorial Regulation No. 79/2020 on the enforcement of health protocols as well as Gubernatorial Regulation No. 80/2020 on the imposition of transitional large-scale social restrictions (PSBB).

"For such a violation, (Rizieq) is subject to a sanction in the form of an administrative fine amounting to 50 million rupiah," Arifin said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Jakarta Post.

"We hope (Rizieq) is willing to cooperate on future events to ensure compliance with health protocols, so that the chain of Covid-19 transmission may be broken."

The firebrand cleric has responded to the sanction, claiming that he had always intended to apply physical distancing measures during the event. However, he said the overwhelming deluge of guests had made it difficult to impose any physical restrictions.

"We had actually wanted our (guests) to sit 1 meter away from one another," Rizieq said in a video uploaded to the FPI's YouTube channel on Sunday, adding that the large number of crowds had quickly taken over most of the event space, making it hard for even the clerics in attendance to find any available seats.

Despite having violated the physical distancing protocol, Rizieq expressed appreciation for his supporters' enthusiasm during the event. "It's okay, this is what my (supporters') enthusiasm looks like. I hope we will be delivered from any diseases and that Allah will soon eradicate the coronavirus pandemic," he said.

"Don't forget, everyone has to follow the command of clerics and ulemas."

Rizieq returned to Indonesia last Tuesday after nearly three years of self-proclaimed exile in Saudi Arabia. On the day of his return, thousands of his supporters - including FPI members - marched to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, to welcome him, causing severe congestion on the road to the airport.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan reportedly met with Rizieq in the latter's house in Petamburan, Tanah Abang on the same day, purportedly only to "catch up" with one another, according to media reports.

Rizieq was a key figure behind a series of sectarian rallies organised by Islamist groups to demand Ahok's imprisonment for blasphemy in the months leading up to election day.

Anies, who was widely seen to have ridden the Islamist wave to win the 2017 gubernatorial election, visited the FPI headquarters and met with Rizieq during his campaign, sparking criticism from both detractors as well as his more progressive supporters.

Rizieq was embroiled in several legal cases when he fled the country in 2017, reportedly on umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The two most infamous cases for which the National Police had named him as a suspect were a pornography case and a case on insulting the state ideology, Pancasila.

He remained in the holy Muslim city on "self-exile", even after his visa expired in July 2018.

Rizieq, however, denies that he had overstayed his visa, claiming that the Islamic kingdom had denied approving his bayan safar, or exit permit, and then had later extended his visa.

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