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Indonesia

Indonesian cleric in quick return to jail

Bahar bin Smith arrested two days after leaving prison for breaching parole terms

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Indonesian cleric in quick return to jail

Muslim cleric Bahar bin Smith is seen beating a boy at his Islamic school in 2019. (Photo: YouTube)

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Indonesian authorities have arrested a controversial cleric to serve the remainder of his prison sentence after he violated the terms of his parole.

Bahar bin Smith was arrested by Bogor police in West Java province on May 19, just two days after he was released on parole from the three-year sentence handed down last July in a case of severely beating students at an Islamic school he managed.

He was taken back to Gunung Sindur Prison in Bogor but following protests by his followers at the prison, he was transferred to a jail in Nusakambangan that usually houses dangerous criminals including terrorists.

Director General of Penitentiary Reynhard Saut Poltak Silitonga said that prior to his release Smith had signed an agreement not to violate any law during his parole.

However, he said, they found that he had taken actions considered to have caused unrest in the community, including giving a provocative sermon.

"He violated the rules of large-scale restrictions in the emergency conditions of Covid-19 by having a mass gathering," Silitonga said.

In his sermon on the day of his release, Smith accused the government of sacrificing the people though its policy of barring communities from doing activities during the pandemic.

“I swear by Allah to continue to voice criticism. I am not afraid the police will jail me again,” he said.

Azis Yanuar, Smith's lawyer, said that in his speech his client did not explicitly mention the identity of a person or agency. He also claimed Smith’s arrest was “an authoritarian act.”

Petrus Selestinus, a Catholic and chairman of a lawyers' group set up to defend the state secular ideology of Pancasila, praised authorities for returning the cleric to prison in view of his large following.

"This is an example of government assertiveness which treats all the same before the law," he told UCA News. He added that it was also very precise, especially since Bogor became one of the Covid-19 red zone areas.

Smith has often criticized the government. He is also the founder of a hardline group called the Prophet’s Defender Council, which regularly raids and forces the closure of entertainment venues during Ramadan after accusing them of being hotbeds of immorality.

He is also known to have ties to the notorious Islamic Defenders Front, another hardline group known to use violence against minorities or those who do not follow the conservative teachings of Islam.

Smith was among clerics who backed a series of rallies in 2016-17 in Jakarta against the city’s former Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, to demand he be sent to jail for insulting Islam.

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