JAKARTA ~ Prosecutors demanded more than five years’ jail on Thursday for an Islamist hardliner accused of inciting an armed attack on a moderate rally, as his trial opened amid tight security.
Hundreds of police formed a cordon outside South Jakarta District Court for the trial of Islamic Defenders Front leader Rizieq Shihab, who is accused of being behind the June attack by hundreds of his stick-wielding followers.
The radical preacher was read charges of inciting hatred and violence and could face up to five-and-a-half years in prison, less than a possible nine years earlier floated by prosecutors.
Scores of white-clad FPI supporters surged towards a car carrying Shihab as he arrived at the court, and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) as he entered the courtroom.
His lawyers argue he cannot be held responsible for the attack, which saw a mob of religious fanatics armed with wooden sticks set upon the peaceful rally at the national monument in Jakarta.
Several people were injured as the extremists beat unarmed demonstrators including old women and children.
Police failed to stop the attack, sparking criticism that the government was afraid to enforce the law in the face of a militant fringe of Islamic extremists.
Front member Jauhari Mubarok said outside the court that the attack was a spontaneous “expression of disappointment” at those who had rallied for tolerance between religions.
“Habib wasn’t involved at all. He didn’t give us any instructions to attack the rally; it was just our expression of disappointment,” he said.
The Front, which wants Syariah, or Islamic law, has launched a series of violent vigilante attacks since 2000, with targets including the US embassy and nightclubs.
Turban-wearing Shihab earlier this year declared “war” on a minority Islamic sect which does not believe Mohammed was the final prophet, breaching one of the basic tenets of the religion.
Militant behavior and the government’s moves to restrict the activities of the Ahmadiyah sect have raised concerns that religious freedom is under attack in the world’s most populous Muslim country.