Indonesian cleric jailed for spreading fake COVID-19 news released on parole

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A controversial Indonesian Muslim cleric, Rizieq Shihab, was released from prison on parole on Wednesday, just over a year after being sentenced and earlier than expected, a government official confirmed.

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The extremist cleric and spiritual figurehead of the now outlawed Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was sentenced to four years in prison in June last year for violating Indonesia’s quarantine law and spreading fake news during the pandemic.

Rizieq was found guilty of breaching coronavirus curbs when he held and attended several mass events at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, including his daughter’s wedding.

Rika Aprianti, an official at the country’s prisons department, said in a written statement on Wednesday that Rizieq had been detained since December 2020 and was therefore eligible for parole.

His release was based on the fact that he had fulfilled the necessary “administrative and substantive requirements to obtain remission,” she said.

In the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Rizieq has been a polarizing political figure.

The firebrand preacher was in 2016 at the forefront of mass protests to bring down a Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, which stoked fears about the Islamisation of Indonesia’s otherwise largely secular and pluralistic politics.

Facing charges of pornography and insulting the state ideology, Rizieq fled to Saudi Arabia in 2017 where he placed himself in self-imposed exile. His supporters claimed the charges were politically motivated and they were subsequently dropped on his return to Indonesia in 2020.

His organization, the FPI, was banned in 2020 after the government declared that it posed a threat to the country’s national ideology, but Rizieq remains popular among some Islamic conservatives.

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