Thousands of Indonesians welcome controversial Muslim cleric after exile

Jakarta, Nov 10 (efe-epa) .- Thousands received radical Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab Tuesday upon his arrival in Jakarta on a flight from Saudi Arabia, where he went into exile in 2017 after being accused of pornography charges that were later dropped.

“Once Allah has shown me the way back home, there is no power that can oppose it,” said the Indonesian cleric, founder of the Front of Defenders of Islam (IDF), before a crowd of supporters at Soekarno Hatta International Airport in the capital.

“Alahu Akbar” (God is great), chanted the followers of Rizieq, who said that he has returned to his country to carry out a moral revolution in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world.

“Let’s make a revolution, let’s make a revolution right now. A moral revolution to save Indonesia,” said the cleric, controversial for his fundamentalist view of Islam and diatribes against religious minorities.

The influx of his followers, mostly men dressed in white, caused so many delays on the highway to the airfield that the state airline Garuda offered affected passengers a refund on tickets or the possibility of changing flight dates without extra cost.

Authorities did not take measures to stop the march despite restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused more than 444,000 infections and 14,000 deaths in the archipelago.

Rizieq, 55, left for Saudi Arabia in April 2017 when Indonesian police were investigating explicitly sexual messages the cleric had allegedly exchanged with a follower on the social network WhatsApp.

After his exile and failing to appear before authorities, police filed formal charges for violating pornography law, as well as for violating the founding ideology of the Indonesian state, Pancasila, which promotes national unity and interreligious respect.

However, the charges were dropped in mid-2018, allowing the preacher to return.

Rizieq, who has accused the government of delaying his return with bureaucratic obstacles, will be able to attend the upcoming wedding of one of his daughters, announced on the IDF YouTube channel.

A defender of Islamic Sharia law and opposed to secularization, Rizieq was jailed for seven months in 2003 for encouraging his IDF supporters to attack nightlife venues in Jakarta.

In 2008, he was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for inciting his supporters to attack another group calling for freedom of belief in Indonesia.

Rizieq was also one of the ringleaders of protests by Islamic radicals in 2016 and 2017 against the then governor of Jakarta, the Christian Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, before he was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. EFE-EPA


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