Jakarta – The much-anticipated trial of firebrand Muslim cleric Rizieq Syihab was postponed on Tuesday after judges at the East Jakarta District Court encountered internet connection problems that made them unable to communicate with the defendant during the virtual hearing.
The leader of hardline group Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, is accused of violating Covid-19 health protocol but tension has been running high since six of his bodyguards were killed by police during a highway pursuit on December 7.
The opening trial was held virtually to avoid public gathering but there was audio problem when the judge began to speak due to poor internet connection.
"This hearing cannot continue because my voice is inaudible," presiding judge Suparman Nyompa said after learning that the defendant couldn't follow him. The hearing has now been adjourned until Friday.
The defense team has insisted that the defendant be presented inside the courtroom.
"There were audio and visual problems so we the attorneys reiterate our demand – as we already put in our letter to the Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission – that the judge panel invites the defendant to the courtroom, because this is the only chance he can receive justice," lawyer Azis Yanuar told reporters at the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta.
He took reference from recent corruption trials against two police generals who both were presented at the courtroom.
Rizieq has been in police detention since Dec. 13 on charges of violating health protocols during the Covid-19 outbreak.
After returning from Saudi Arabia in November, he held a wedding party for a daughter at his home in Petamburan, Central Jakarta and attended an event in Bogor, West Java. Both events attracted a huge crowd who wanted to see and greet him with little regard for social distancing and mask wearing advices, according to the police.
Five other FPI members were also named suspects for the similar charge, including Hari Ubaidillah, Maman Suryadi, Ahmad Sobri Lubis, Ali bin Ali Alatas and Idrus.
Rizieq is also accused of concealing information about his diagnostic test for coronavirus at an Islamic hospital in Bogor.
The case turned ugly on Dec. 7 when a police chase led to the fatal shooting that killed six FPI members in a Jakarta suburb. Police argued that they were pursuing a vehicle convoy carrying Rizieq when a car tried to block them on the toll road.
Two FPI members were killed on the spot, while four others died later in what police described as defense action as they allegedly resisted arrest and tried to grab police guns while in the car. The National Commission for Human Rights have launched investigation and recommended criminal trial against the officers involved.
Rizieq and the FPI have gained notoriety for violent protests and intolerant views towards people of different faiths.
He was sentenced to seven months in prison in 2003 after the group vandalized bars in Jakarta. Five years later, he again was convicted and sentenced to one and a half years for an attack on a religious freedom event at the National Monument Square in Central Jakarta.
Since 2016, he has been facing a number of police complaints over various issues from insulting state symbols and blasphemy to false communism symbol claims and alleged sexual chat with a female supporter.
He left for Saudi Arabia in 2017 amid a wave of legal cases directed against him. The government declared the FPI as forbidden organization in December.