Supporters of a detained firebrand cleric on Friday marched in Indonesia’s capital to demand his release and justice for six followers who were killed by police.
Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), had on Saturday last week turned himself in to authorities, a day after police warned that they would arrest him after he ignored several summonses.
He was accused of inciting people to breach COVID-19 pandemic restrictions by holding events attended by thousands of supporters to commemorate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday and the wedding of his daughter.
Last month’s gatherings took place less than a week after his return from three years of exile in Saudi Arabia.
Police said that Shihab could face up to six years in prison if found guilty of inciting people to violate health regulations and of obstructing law enforcement.
About 200 protesters organized by a conservative Muslim alliance, including FPI members, halted traffic along the way to the presidential palace in downtown Jakarta as they chanted “God is great” and “We want justice.”
They waved black and white flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith and carried banners and placards slamming authorities over the arrest of their leader and the killing of the six followers. The six men were on Monday last week accompanying Shihab to a morning prayer event in a convoy of vehicles outside Jakarta when they were killed by police.
Police said that they were carrying weapons, including pistols, and threatened officers.
The FPI identified them as guards and denied that they were carrying weapons.
The Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights is investigating the incident.
The protesters on Friday afternoon dispersed peacefully after police threatened to arrest them for violating a health state of emergency in Jakarta, which has been hit hard by COVID-19.
Shihab left Indonesia in 2017 for a pilgrimage to Mecca shortly after police charged him in a pornography case and with insulting the official state ideology.
Prosecutors in 2018 dropped both charges due to weak evidence, but authorities in Saudi Arabia prevented him from leaving the country without explanation.
Shihab frequently criticizes Indonesian government policies, and his statements often provoke controversy.
He attracted large crowds at several events in Jakarta and the province of West Java, with many people not wearing masks and ignoring physical distancing norms.
The FPI has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups. It wants Islamic Shariah law to apply to Indonesia’s 230 million Muslims.
Indonesia has reported more than 650,000 COVID-19 cases, the largest number in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 10 million cases.
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