Paroled hardline Muslim cleric promises to fight on, ‘forbid evil’

Dandy Koswaraputra
Paroled hardline Muslim cleric promises to fight on, ‘forbid evil’ Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, leader of the now banned Indonesian Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), waves as supporters greet him at the Tanah Abang, in Jakarta, Nov. 10, 2020.
[Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

A hardline Indonesian Muslim cleric vowed to fight on as he walked free on parole Wednesday after serving about 18 months of his four-year prison sentence for lying about his COVID-19 test result. 

Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, founder of the banned but influential anti-vice group Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), pledged to continue to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil, no matter the risks,” in his first public statement after being set free from a prison in Jakarta.

“I’m telling you my friends and fellow scholars, we are united in the struggle and I will not abandon the people, I will not betray the people,” Rizieq said in a speech livestreamed online.

“I will try my best to protect the people and will continue to fight for the rights of the people, because we are the people, and the people are us,” he said.

Rizieq also said he was forbidden from travelling outside the capital without written permission from parole officers. According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Rizieq was allowed to go free because he had met minimum requirements for parole, but he will have to report regularly to the Bapas correctional institution in Jakarta for at least a year.

Azis Yanuar, Rizieq’s attorney, said his client would spend his time preaching what he called a “moral revolution” but in a way that avoids breaching his parole terms.

“He will go about it without violating the law and in a softer manner,” Azis told BenarNews.

‘Won’t risk criminal offenses’

Rizieq would likely avoid mobilizing followers for political rallies ahead of national elections scheduled for 2024, said analyst Rakyan Adibrata.

“During the period of parole, I believe that he will not risk criminal offenses. In other words, he will play it safe,” Rakyan, Indonesia director of the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, told BenarNews. 

However, Rakyan said, conservative Muslim politicians might try to court Rizieq as he remains influential politically. 

“I believe soon there will be meetings between politicians and Habib Rizieq that will be covered widely by the media as identity politics heats up,” said the analyst, using the Arabic honorific for the cleric.

A Jakarta court in June 2021 sentenced Rizieq to four years in prison for saying he was not infected with COVID-19 after testing positive and refusing to give the government access to his test results.

The previous month, Rizieq and five of his associates were sentenced to eight months in prison for violating coronavirus restrictions by organizing events in late 2020 that drew thousands of people. These included a gathering to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad and a wedding for Rizieq’s daughter.

Rizieq, a vocal critic of the government, held the gatherings upon his return home from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 10, 2020.

Since founding the anti-vice group FPI in 1998, the cleric and the group’s members have had several brushes with the law.

In the early 2000s, FPI was notorious for raiding bars and night clubs, which, the group said, harbored drug dealers and prostitutes.

In 2003, Rizieq was sentenced to seven months in prison for these raids.

In 2008, he was jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of inciting FPI members to assault protesters from the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Beliefs.

In Dec. 2020, police shot and killed, allegedly in self-defense, six of Rizieq’s supporters who were traveling in a convoy with him.

A month later, the National Commission on Human Rights said its investigation found police had acted unlawfully in the killings of at least four of those followers.

FPI, for its part, claimed the six were victims of extrajudicial killings.

The Indonesian government officially banned FPI in December 2020 after it accused the group of violating the law and disrupting peace and security. In addition, 35 members and former members had been convicted on terrorism charges, officials said.

The decision to ban the organization was taken jointly by Indonesia’s home, law and communications ministers, the police and counter terrorism heads, and the attorney general.


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