Home Equality & Justice Jakarta tightens health protocols after firebrand cleric attracts large crowds

Jakarta tightens health protocols after firebrand cleric attracts large crowds

Authorities in Jakarta will implement strict health protocols in the coming days after a hard-line Muslim cleric violated restrictions when he attended mass gatherings in the Indonesian capital last week.

According to local media, Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria announced that large social gatherings will be prohibited under the capital’s partial lockdown measures amid the pandemic.

“There won’t be crowds like in previous years; there won’t be concerts, dancing, singing in public — not this year,” said the governor, referring to traditional celebrations during Christmas and New Year.

People, however, hit authorities for failing to stop a gathering of about 10,000 people during a wedding last week of the daughter of Rizieq Shihab, a controversial Islamic leader.

Rizieq had returned from a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 10 and was greeted by a crowd of supporters who had been bussed in to meet him at Jakarta’s international airport.

There were chaotic scenes at the airport as his supporters, dressed in white, paralysed the toll road, scrambling to get a glimpse of the cleric and trying to kiss his hand. Some airlines were forced to reschedule flights.

Rizieq also greeted thousands of supporters outside the headquarters of the Islamic Defenders Front in the city.

Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesian Islamic Defenders Front, is greeted by supporters at the Tanah Abang, Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 10. (Photo by Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)
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The wedding celebration for his daughter later in the week reportedly drew about 10,000 guests, a violation of social distancing and crowd size restrictions due to the pandemic.

Rizieq is the founder of the radical Islamic Defenders Front, which has targeted religious, ethnic and sexual minorities and carried out vigilante acts, including raids on bars.

Rizieq, who was jailed in 2008 on charges of inciting violence, became a figurehead for conservative Islam and a politically influential movement that helped bring down Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok”, who in 2017 was jailed for insulting Islam.

That year, police filed a case against Rizieq over insulting Indonesia’s secular state ideology, Pancasila, and breaching pornography laws, after a purported steamy exchange with a supporter that included naked images of a woman was circulated online.

The cleric left Indonesia in 2017 and police dropped both cases a year later, but he had remained in self-exile in Saudi Arabia until Nov. 10.

‘It is reckless’

The large gatherings around him since his return have created a stir with The Telegraph reporting that two regional police chiefs were fired for failing to “uphold health protocols” and Rizieq being fined a token amount around US$3,500.

“What he has been doing for the last two weeks is basically being reckless,” said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“It might be a COVID superspreader that might cause people to die,” Harsono said.

“It is like driving a car when you are drunk. It is reckless. Especially in a situation like this when many doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, grave diggers have died in Indonesia,” he added.

A worker wearing a protective face mask sweeps the street near a mural promoting awareness of COVID-19 in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 2. (Photo by Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)

In a video post, Rizieq said he had always intended to apply physical distancing measures at the wedding but that the deluge of guests had made it impossible.

“It’s okay, 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,” the cleric was quoted by the Jakarta Post.

In the past 24 hours, Jakarta recorded 1,148 new cases of the new coronavirus disease, Central Java 495, East Java 480, West Java 365 and Riau 274.

On Nov. 18, COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 4,265 within one day to 478,720, with the death toll adding by 110 to 15,503.

The country’s Health Ministry said 3,711 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 402,347. The virus has spread to all the country’s 34 provinces.

With Reuters

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