Thursday, February 25, 2021

Firebrand cleric’s mask-free followers prompt police chiefs’ sacking

The hardline leader of the Islamic Defenders' Front recently returned to Indonesia from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

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A recently returned firebrand cleric’s mass events in Indonesia have resulted in two of the country’s top police chiefs being sacked.

The chiefs were reassigned on Monday for failing to stop hardline cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab from organising public events last week which were attended by thousands of followers who flouted Covid-19 restrictions, the national police said.

National police spokesman Argo Yuwono told CNA on Tuesday that Jakarta’s police chief Nana Sudjana and West Java’s police chief Rudy Sufahriadi had failed to carry out orders to enforce health protocols.

“The national police chief has ordered his subordinates not to hesitate in taking firm actions against those violating health protocols,” Yuwono said. “The national police also will not hesitate to take firm actions against those who do not follow orders.”

Shihab is the firebrand leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) and has millions of devout followers.

He recently returned from a three-year self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, where he fled after police called him in for questioning about complaints that he sent lewd images to a woman and insulted Pancasila, the Indonesian state philosophy. He stayed in Saudi Arabia after police issued arrest warrants against him on these charges.

Shihab is a fierce critic of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government. Since his return, he has repeatedly called for a “moral revolution” in Indonesia.

Last week, political analysts told BenarNews that his return could energise the opposition because its members would seek common cause with the cleric’s anti-government position.

Additionally, the FPI leader who defends shariah law could cause upheaval in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, whose second-term president is largely viewed as being secular, they said.

This week, Jokowi said security authorities need to take firm action against anyone who violates coronavirus health guidelines.

Days after his return, the cleric led a mass gathering to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad in Jakarta.

He then staged a crowded wedding reception in Bogor, West Java for his daughter last Saturday evening. The wedding is said to have been attended by 10,000 guests.

Many at the gatherings did not wear masks or practise safe distancing.

Shihab said on Sunday that he had intended wedding guests to sit apart from each other in accordance with pandemic guidelines, but the sheer numbers of people who turned up prevented that from happening.

“We actually wanted our guests to sit one metre away from one another,” he said. “But 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.”

There are now nearly half a million Covid-19 cases in Indonesia. The virus-related death toll stands at 15,296.

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