An Indonesian court on Thursday sentenced hardline Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab to eight months in prison and fined him 20 million rupiah for breaching coronavirus curbs after his return last year from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.
A live stream of the court hearing showed Rizieq, the spiritual leader of outlawed Islamist vigilante group the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) dressed in a white tunic, turban and face mask, clutching prayer beads, Reuters reports.
Judge Suparman Nyompa handed Rizieq the prison term for violating the health quarantine law in relation to several mass events, including his daughter’s wedding, which was attended by thousands of his followers.
Prosecutors had sought a two-year prison sentence for inciting his followers to attend mass gatherings, though he was cleared of this charge.
Some 3,000 police officers were deployed to guard the courthouse in East Jakarta ahead of the verdict, but there were no big protests by his supporters.
Rizieq returned to Indonesia in November after three years in Saudi Arabia, where he had fled while facing charges concerning pornography and insulting the state ideology of Pancasila which promises a multifaith democracy. Both charges were later dropped.
Thousands of his followers had inundated the airport to celebrate his return, and then joined mass events in the days that followed despite rules to limit gatherings as Indonesia grappled with the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia.
His legal team had claimed the charges were politically motivated and part of efforts to silence him because of his large and vocal following in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.
The FPI was politically influential in Indonesia, and was among several Islamic groups that staged rallies in 2016 to bring down Jakarta’s then Christian governor on charges of blasphemy.
The mass protests against the governor caused deep anxiety within the government of President Joko Widodo about an Islamist threat.
The government then sought to crackdown on some Islamist groups, including FPI and Hizb-ut Tahrir Indonesia or Party of Liberation, which was banned in 2017.
In December, police killed six of Rizieq’s supporters in a shootout, saying they acted in self-defence after weapons were pointed at them but the FPI accused them of carrying out extrajudicial killings.