Jakarta – Firebrand cleric Rizieq Syihab was sentenced to eight months in prison on Thursday after a Jakarta court found him guilty of violating Covid-19-related social restrictions while acquitting him of a more serious charge.
The verdict by the East Jakarta District Court is a continuing saga between the leader of now-defunct hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Joko Widodo government that at one point left six FPI members fatally shot by police.
Rizieq, along with four former FPI senior members, were convicted for holding public events in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, in violation to social restrictions during the pandemic.
Thousands of people reportedly attended the wedding party of Rizieq's daughter and a commemoration for Prophet Muhammad's birthday in Petamburan last November.
The other defendants include Haris Ubaidillah, Ahmad Sabri Lubis, Ali Alwi Alatas and Idrus Al Habsyi – all get a similar jail term.
However, Presiding Judge Suparman Nyompa dismissed the charge that Rizieq had incited followers to disobey the law. The particular charge is punishable by six years' imprisonment.
The judge also credited Rizieq for "telling the truth" throughout the proceedings.
"The court has learned facts that the defendant didn't incite people or commit violence against the government," Suparman told the hearing when reading out the verdict.
In a separate hearing by the same judge panel, Rizieq was slapped with a fine of Rp 20 million ($1,400) for attending an Islamic boarding school in Bogor, West Java during an event that also attracted thousands of people.
An attorney for Rizieq said he shouldn't have been convicted because commemorating the prophet's birthday is not a crime.
"We are in the opinion that what Rizieq and other defendants have done doesn't constitute to a crime," lawyer Azis Yanuar said.
Prosecutors have recommended 34 months' imprisonment for Rizieq in an earlier hearing.
Rizieq turned himself in to the police on Dec. 13, six days after a police chase led to the fatal shooting of 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 was sentenced to seven months in prison in 2003 after the FPI 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, citing links to terrorism.