Indonesian police arrests Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab over breach of coronavirus lockdown restrictions

Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesian Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), is greeted by supporters at the Tanah Abang, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Indonesian Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab was arrested in Jakarta on Saturday on suspicion of having breached coronavirus restrictions by holding events that drew thousands of followers in the city, his lawyer said.

Police had been investigating the firebrand and politically influential cleric for violating COVID-19 control measures after several mass gatherings were held to celebrate his return from self-exile in Saudi Arabia last month.

Rizieq’s lawyer, Aziz Yanuar, said his team would file a pre-trial motion to seek the release of the cleric – who was arrested after appearing at a police station in the capital earlier in the day.

Local media cited Jakarta police as saying Rizieq, who heads the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), had been charged with the obstruction of law enforcement and incitement of criminal acts.

This comes after six of Rizieq’s supporters were killed in a shootout with police on Monday.

With a reputation for raiding bars, brothels and violently cracking down on religious minorities, the FPI has become politically influential in recent years.

In 2016, Rizieq was the figurehead of the mass 212 movement against Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who was jailed on blasphemy charges for insulting Islam.

The mass rallies raised concern about the rise of identity politics and political Islam in Indonesia.

Rizieq, 55, left the country a year later after facing charges over sending pornographic messages and insulting state ideology, remaining in self-exile in Saudi Arabia for three years.

When he landed in Jakarta on November 10, tens of thousands of his supporters flocked to the airport in white Islamic garb, ignoring health protocols as they clamoured to greet him.

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