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Indonesian cleric sentenced to four years for concealing Covid-19 test result

The three-judge panel ruled that Rizieq Shihab had lied about his Covid-19 test result, which made contact tracing more difficult
Associated Press

An influential firebrand cleric was sentenced to another four years in prison in Indonesia on Thursday, for concealing information about his coronavirus test result.

The three-judge panel at East Jakarta District Court, which was under heavy police and military guard, ruled that Rizieq Shihab had lied about his Covid-19 test result, which made contact tracing more difficult.

Shihab has been detained since December 13. The judges ordered the time he has already served to be deducted from his sentence.

Authorities blocked streets leading to the court as thousands of Shihab’s supporters tried to hold a rally to demand his release.

Police fired tear gas and water canons to disperse followers who tried to approach the court. Hundreds who refused to leave were detained.

Shihab has been facing a series of criminal trials since returning from a three-year exile in Saudi Arabia last November.

Judges at the same court on May 27 sentenced him to eight months in prison for violating health protocols by holding a religious gathering and the wedding of his daughter, both attended by thousands of supporters during the coronavirus outbreak.

He was also fined 20 million rupiah (£1,000) for a mass gathering in West Java.

After the gatherings, he was treated at Ummi Hospital in Bogor, a city just outside the capital, Jakarta, for Covid-19, but hospital officials kept his condition secret.

The charges said Shihab’s false statement that he was healthy, which was aired by several news network and went viral on social media, put the community at risk, considering that he had attended several events involving thousands of people.

Shihab, 55, was the leader and grand imam of the now-defunct Islam Defenders Front, widely known by the Indonesian acronym FPI, which was once on the political fringes.

It has a long record of vandalising nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups, and wants Islamic Shariah law to apply to Indonesia’s 230 million Muslims.

Shihab’s presence at gatherings attracted large crowds, with many ignoring physical distancing and failing to wear masks.

During the trial, Shihab said he was worried that disclosing he was ill would be “politicised” by his opponents.

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