Police Chiefs Sacked over Indonesian Cleric’s Rallies amid Pandemic

Tia Asmara
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id-religion-cleric-photo620 Muhammad Rizieq Shihab (center), leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front, gestures to supporters as he arrives to inaugurate a mosque in West Java, Indonesia, Nov. 13, 2020. AFP

The police chiefs of Jakarta and West Java were sacked Monday for failing to stop hardline cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab from organizing public events last week attended by thousands of people who flouted COVID-19 restrictions, the national police said.

National police chief Gen. Idham Azis removed Inspector Gen. Nana Sudjana and Inspector Gen. Rudy Sufahradi Novianto from their posts as the chiefs of police in the Indonesian capital and neighboring West Java province, respectively, spokesman Argo Yuwono said.

“The two regional police chiefs were deemed to have failed in carrying out their duties in enforcing health protocols,” Argo said during a virtual press conference about the lack of enforcement at events organized by Rizieq, a critic of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

During a Monday morning cabinet meeting, Jokowi said security authorities need to take firm action against anyone who violates coronavirus health guidelines.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 3,535 on Monday, taking the nationwide total to 470,648, according to Ministry of Health data. The virus-related death toll rose by 85 to 15,296.

Globally, more than 54.7 million have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 1.3 million have died, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The Jakarta administration on Sunday imposed a fine of 50 million rupiah (U.S. $3,500) on Rizieq, which he immediately paid, said Arifin, the head of the Jakarta Civil Service Police Unit who uses one name only.

“We hope that they will be cooperative by complying with the health protocol,” he said in a statement.

On Nov. 10, thousands of supporters of Rizieq, the founder of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), greeted him upon his arrival at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, when he returned home after three years of self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

Jakarta’s governor, Anies Baswedan, an ally of Rizieq, apparently met with the cleric that day, The Jakarta Post reported.

On Friday, Rizieq held a rally in the West Java town of Ciawi.

A day later, thousands of his supporters packed a neighborhood in central Jakarta to attend his daughter’s wedding on a day they also celebrated the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad.

For his part, Rizieq on Sunday said that he had intended for guests at Saturday’s event to sit apart from each other in line with pandemic guidelines, but the sheer number of people prevented that from happening.

“We had actually wanted our guests to sit one meter away from one another,” Rizieq said in a video published on the FPI’s YouTube channel on Sunday.

“It’s OK, 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.”

Police said they would question Anies about his role last week in allowing the event in his city, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

Rizieq went to Saudi Arabia after police called him in for questioning about complaints that he sent lewd images to a woman or insulted Pancasila, the Indonesian state philosophy. He stayed in Saudi Arabia after police issued arrest warrants against him on these charges.

The cleric previously said police had targeted him for criticizing the government while authorities said they had evidence to support their charges.

Rizieq insisted that he could not return to Indonesia after the charges against him were dropped in 2018, saying authorities had blocked his return. The government denied this accusation last week, saying Rizieq may have violated his residence permit in Saudi Arabia.

‘Not enough to just make appeals’

Many Indonesians have criticized authorities for allowing Rizieq to hold large public events despite COVID-19 restrictions.

On social media, the government’s COVID-19 task force was condemned for donating 20,000 masks and hand sanitizers to Rizieq to be used by those who attended Saturday’s event.

“I apologize if the decision displeased many people. The decision was made simply to protect the public,” task force chief Doni Monardo said on Sunday.

He added that the decision to donate masks and hand sanitizer was taken after organizers did not accede to a request to cancel the gathering.

Jokowi said appeals and requests notwithstanding, health protocol rules need to be enforced in a firm, consistent and indiscriminate manner.

“It’s not enough to just make appeals, they must be followed by concrete supervision and enforcement on the ground,” Jokowi said, according to a statement on the president’s website.

After a Monday meeting with the Committee on Handling COVID-19 and National Economic Recovery, Jokowi said public trust in government was needed so that it could implement measures to curb coronavirus spread effectively.

Security forces will be penalized if they do not take firm action against those who violate COVID-19 health guidelines, said Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

“The government will also impose sanctions on security personnel who are unable to act decisively in ensuring the implementation of COVID-19 health protocols," Mahfud said.

Anies, too, warned that action would be taken against violators, but did not comment on the cleric’s events.

“Every report on a violation will be dealt with promptly,” he told reporters.

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

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

Since his return, Rizieq has repeatedly called for a “moral revolution.”


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