Jakarta. The East Jakarta District Court on Tuesday accepted a request by firebrand cleric Rizieq Syihab to hold face to face proceedings in his health protocol violation trial following technical error in the opening hearing and fierce opposition from the defendant.
Rizieq refused to present his preliminary defense during Tuesday’s hearing unless the proceedings took place in person, causing a further delay in his trial.
The leader of hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) is on trial for violating Covid-19 health protocol related to his daughter’s wedding party and another public gathering with his presence back in November.
The trial has been decided to use video conference to avoid public gathering during the outbreak.
But the opening hearing was delayed last week due to audio issue that prompted the defendant to walk out.
"I stand by my principle and I request the panel of judges to allow me to read out my defense inside the courtroom of the East Jakarta District Court,” Rizieq said from the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Agency in South Jakarta where he was remotely following the hearing.
The prosecution team immediately raised objection, triggering a heated debate with the defense.
Presiding Judge Suparman Nyompa stepped in to grant face to face hearing for Rizieq, citing last week’s technical error.
"We take the previous hearing into consideration as it was hampered by internet connection that made the defendant unable to communicate properly," Suparman told the hearing streamed live on the court’s YouTube account.
He added the court couldn’t afford another delay because the proceedings have a deadline.
During the next hearing on Friday, the defendant should be presented in the courtroom to read out his preliminary defense, the judge said.
"There must be no further delay on March 26. If the defendant fails to deliver, we will assume that he doesn’t use his rights to present objections to prosecutors,” the judge said.
Under the Indonesian judiciary system, a defendant is allowed to respond personally to prosecutors’ indictment in the subsequent hearing.
The decision was welcomed by the Rizieq camp.
“It shows that the judge panel respects the defendant’s rights and we thank them for that,” Munarman, an attorney for Rizieq, told reporters.
While the defendant refused to respond to the indictment until the next hearing, Munarman provided some key points why the defense is object to the trial.
The former secretary of the now-defunct FPI said the trial carries “political motive”.
He said the trial should never happen because Rizieq has paid the Jakarta government Rp 50 million in fine after he was reprimanded for the gathering in November.
Munarman argued that the payment should have prevented a criminal trial in the first place.
“But this is all about politics. Behind this, there are certain political motives to silence Habib Rizieq,” Munarman said.
Despite the virtual hearing, a big crowd of Rizieq supporters attended the courthouse on Tuesday. Police managed to disband the crowd after saying every one of them would be taken to the police station for Covid-19 test if they refused to leave.