Jakarta, Indonesia - Three shameful cases brought before Indonesian courts recently reveal that the country’s legal system is in very poor shape. The law is applied forcefully against the poor and vulnerable, while the rich and powerful evade it with impunity.
Minah, an illiterate 55-year-old grandmother who lives in a small Indonesian village near Banyumas in Central Java, was taken to court last month for stealing three cocoa fruits worth 1,500 rupiah (US$0.15) from a plantation. She was confused that, after having returned the fruit with apologies to the plantation, the owner still reported her to the local police station.
She had to travel a long distance on foot and by bus to face questioning and trial. Minah, who stood trial without a lawyer, said she took the cocoa fruits in September to grow plants from the seeds. The local district court gave her a 45-day suspended sentence and three months’ probation. It means that if Minah commits a similar offence within three months from the date of conviction, she will have to serve her 45-day sentence.
A similar case took place in Kediri, East Java, where local police arrested and detained two farmers, Basar Suyanto and Kholil, for stealing a watermelon from a neighboring field. The two remorseful farmers made their first court appearance, like Minah, unaccompanied by lawyers. They remained in detention more than two months before a court-appointed lawyer obtained their release. Their case remains unsettled.
Aguswandi Tanjung, a 57-year-old tenant in an apartment in Jakarta, was arrested on Sept. 8 for stealing electricity. He was detained for charging his mobile phone in a corridor inside the apartment block after the building management cut off the electricity to his apartment.
Compare the three cases above with that of Indonesian businessman Anggodo Widjojo, who allegedly conspired to frame two commissioners of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission. Based on wiretapped conversations heard in a Constitutional Court hearing a few months back, the evidence is strong that he tried to interfere in cases with several high-ranking law enforcement officers.
He also has said on national television that he gave nearly 6 billion rupiah (US$636,000) to a case broker to deal with the problem of the anti-corruption body. Yet the police have been unable to pin charges on him and until today Anggodo remains untouchable.
These are just a few cases that have come to public attention; certainly there are many similar examples of injustice. These abysmal stories show that in Indonesia the law is powerful against the poor, yet impotent against those with power and money.
In the context of protecting human rights, laws are intended to uphold the rights that are inherent to all human beings. The laws allow everyone to claim their rights and oblige the state to prosecute those who deny them.
Indonesia’s dysfunctional legal system cannot protect its people’s human rights. If past abuses are left unresolved, future human rights violations are likely to take place and remain unresolved as well.
Indonesia needs to reform and strengthen its legal system. Otherwise, the country will end up in pandemonium where laws are only paper and human rights turn into human wrongs.--
(Ricky Gunawan holds a law degree from the University of Indonesia. He is program director of the Community Legal Aid Institute, or LBH Masyarakat, based in Jakarta. The institute provides pro bono legal aid and human rights education for disadvantaged and marginalized people.)