Indonesian Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab (center) arrives at police headquarters in Jakarta on Dec. 12, 2020, before being arrested for breaching coronavirus restrictions by holding mass gatherings. (Photo: AFP)
An Indonesian firebrand cleric has been sentenced to four years in prison for spreading false information about his Covid-19 test result.
The East Jakarta District Court ruled on June 24 that Muhammad Rizieq Shihab was guilty of lying about his result and had impeded contact tracing.
The sentence was lighter than the six years demanded by the prosecutor.
In a trial broadcast live, presiding judge Khadwanto said Shihab "gave false information and purposefully caused confusion among the public" following his test at the Ummi Hospital in Bogor, a city just outside capital Jakarta.
Shihab claimed in a video uploaded on the hospital website last November that he was healthy despite having tested positive.
The hospital’s director Andi Tatat was also found guilty of spreading misinformation.
Muhammad Guntur Romli, a moderate Islamic activist and critic of the cleric, said Shihab should have been punished more severely
Clashes broke out between his supporters and police following the sentencing, resulting in dozens of arrests.
Shihab is a leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a now banned hardline group accused of carrying out violent attacks against religious minorities.
The same court had previously convicted Shihab of other Covid-19 related crimes since he returned to Indonesia in November 2020 after spending three years in Saudi Arabia to escape pornography charges.
The cleric, who was already jailed, was sentenced to eight months in prison on May 27 for flouting health protocols by holding a massive wedding for his daughter, and fined US$1,383 in lieu of five months in prison for holding a mass gathering in Puncak, West Java.
Muhammad Guntur Romli, a moderate Islamic activist and critic of the cleric, said Shihab should have been punished more severely.
"He is creating a long criminal record," he said, adding that Shihab had tarnished Muslim clerics everywhere.
Petrus Selestinus, a Catholic lawyer who once reported Shihab for allegedly insulting Christianity by ridiculing the birth of Jesus, said the judge should have considered his previous convictions before handing down the sentence.
"I am disappointed with the light term. From the start, I always said that this person should be sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum term that the law demands," he said.
The light sentence would only show that "the government is being too lenient with such people."
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