Celebrity preacher investigated for spreading hate speech and hoax in viral video clip

Zulkifli Muhammad Ali Photo: @zulkiflima / Instagram

Zulkifli Muhammad Ali is a famous firebrand preacher in Indonesia who often gives sermons on TV programs such as Islam Itu Indah (Islam is Beautiful). While popular with many, the ultra-conservative ideology and medically and scientifically inaccurate views he has expressed in his sermons have caused controversy before and now they could get him thrown in jail.

Yesterday, Zulkifli was questioned by Indonesian police over a viral clip from a sermon he gave in November that authorities suspect contains elements of criminal hate speech.

In the clip, Zulkifli mentions millions of Indonesian ID cards were being printed in France and China and that they would be used by foreign nationals and had troops ready to enter Indonesia.

“It’s a lie that has spread false information that can disturb the public, and, of course, because this news has been spread, it must be stopped,” said police spokesperson Sulistyo Pudjo yesterday as quoted by Detik.

Pudjo said the police began the investigation into the hate speech case after the clip went viral and they received numerous reports from the public about it.

Upon arriving at the Police Cybercrime Directorate for questioning yesterday, Zulkifli told the media that he wanted to straighten out the police’s misunderstanding as his sermon was based on hadiths (Islamic scripture) from the Prophet Muhammad.

After being questioned by investigators for four hours, the celebrity preacher explained that his sermon was actually based on information he heard “in the field” and from other reliable sources.

“In 2016 there was a massive amount of news (about the ID cards printed in France and China). Proof could be found in the field and there were media saying that and many Islamic scholars presenting that from the pulpit until finally I followed suit,” said Zulkifli.

He also dismissed the police’s allegation that his sermon caused a disturbance to the community. He argued that his sermon had been unfairly singled out because of how popular he is.

“It’s possible only because I have ‘full power’ (note: he actually said “full power” in English) so I’m in the spotlight more and also there was a recording.”

If charged and found guilty of spreading hate speech or false information over the Internet in violation the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), Zulkifli could face up to six years in prison.

Another sermon that Zulkifli gave last year, in which he gave dangerously inaccurate medical advice and said ‘cesarean sections are a form of anarchism of the devil’, was one of the reasons the Indonesian Ulema Council began efforts to set standards on the sermons given by preachers on TV.

 

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