Jakarta. Hardline Muslime cleric Rizieq Shihab has gathered thousands of people in many events in Jakarta and West Java since his return from self-exile in Saudi Arabia last week, increasing the risk of Covid-19 spread as the Jakarta provincial government and the National Police looked away from his crowd's blatant disregard of the health protocols.
It took six days for the authority to punish Rizieq for the gatherings. The Jakarta Municipal Police (Satpol PP) fined him Rp 50 million ($3,500) on Sunday for celebrating the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday and his daughter's marriage, which gathers thousands of people at his house in Petamburan, Central Jakarta a day earlier.
"That's the rule, which applies to anyone," Satpol PP head Arifin told reporters.
National Police Chief Idham Azis said the police had acknowledged certain crowds — without singling out FPI — have caused concerns among Jakarta residents and various communities across Indonesia.
Idham repeated government calls of wearing masks, maintaining distance, washing hands to avoiding crowds. "This must be carried out by all of us together to ensure mutual safety," he said on Sunday. However, absent from the speech was any mention of sanctions that Idham often emphasized in his previous public remark about Covid-19.
The police took little action to rein in the gatherings, although it has deployed 70,608 personnel in the Greater Jakarta area to enforce health protocols.
Instead, the police accommodate and allow the group to congregate. On Friday, for example, the police manage the traffic for Rizieq's visits to Bogor. The police also deployed hundreds of personnel on Saturday to blockade the main road in front of Rizieq's house so that the cleric can hold his events.
In contrast, the police dispersed a group of people gathering at Bunderan Hotel Indonesia in Central Jakarta on Saturday for breaking the Covid-19 health protocols. The group claimed to support Nikita Mirzani, a local celebrity known for her raunchy persona, who openly criticized Rizieq on social media.
Critics said the government's inaction against Rizieq had undermined its previous efforts and campaigns to curb the pandemic's spread.
"[S]alus populi suprema lex esto, which has been echoed by state officials and security forces, seemed to not apply in the face of [Rizieq's] crowds," Hendardi, the head of rights group Setara Insitute said on Sunday, quoting a Latin maxim that means 'the health of the people should be the supreme law.'
The absence of proper governance hurt doctors and nurses, who continue to struggle in hospitals; students who are bored with online learning; and the unemployed who cannot find jobs due to Covid-19, Hendardi said.
He also criticized the government and the police who resorted to persuasion instead of taking firm action against Rizieq. "It was the government job to impose the law," Hendardi said.
Rizieq's gatherings began last Tuesday when thousands of members and sympathizers of the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) marched on the toll road — causing traffic jams for hours and flight delays as hundred of crews unable to reach the airport on time — and crowded at a tight space in the Soekarno Hatta International Airport to welcome their leader, Rizieq, arriving from Saudi.
On Wednesday, Rizieq met with several politicians, including Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, at his house in Petamburan, Central Jakarta. Rizieq was Anies's main supporter in the religiously charged Jakarta election in 2017 that ousted Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and of Chinese descent incumbent governor.
Jakarta dropped a requirement for people coming from abroad to isolate themselves for two weeks, as long as they can show a PCR test negative result on arrival.
On Thursday, spokesman Wiku Adisasmito spoke out against the gatherings. "We hope that yesterday's incident [at Soekarno Hatta Airport] is the last incident because this has implications for the potential for transmission and a huge increase in cases," Wiku said.
"Don't be selfish. We have to remember that if we gather together, it can bring havoc during this pandemic,” Wiku said.
Wiku's call fell on deaf ears. FPI continued to congregate on Friday at the commemoration of the Prophet's Birthday in Tebet, South Jakarta, which was also attended by Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria.
Later on the day, Rizieq's visited Markaz Syariah, an FPI-affiliated boarding school in Bogor district in West Java. On both occasions, thousands gathered, but only a few of them are seen wearing masks or keeping one-meter distance between each other, videos on FPI's Youtube channel showed.
When asked about his presence in one of the FPI gatherings, Riza said that the provincial government continued to remind people to obey health protocols.
"For this reason, we are always here to carry out our duties, remind people to use masks. The public must be careful, wearing a mask anytime, anywhere, including when speaking. Now that there are many religious activities, especially Prophet's Birthday, we ask the public to wear masks and carry out health protocols," Riza said on Friday.
Riza did not comment on how Jakarta's transitional large-scale social restriction (PSBB) rule also ban gatherings in a public place that exceeds 50 percent of the place capacity or requires people to keep one-meter distance between each other.
The Covid-19 Task Force also seemed powerless to stop the crowds. "The authority to act on those gatherings rest on the provincial's task force," Wiku said on Saturday.
Also Saturday, the Task Force decided to deliver 10,000 masks and hand sanitizers to Rizieq's house as the cleric plans to continue mass gathering to celebrate his daughter's marriage on Sunday. Lt. Gen. Doni Monardo, the head of the Covid-19 Task Force that he regretted, many still neglect wearing masks in public.
"Providing free masks and hand sanitizers are not only for upholding health protocols but also as part of an effort to encourage all the [people] around [Rizieq] to wear masks," Doni said.