Thu, 08 May 2003

Student jailed for insulting Megawati

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A university student was sentenced on Wednesday to five months in jail for burning an effigy of President Megawati Soekarnoputri during a protest march last year.

The case of Kiastomo, the defendant, has increased the number of citizens, to at least four, who have been jailed for "insulting the president", all while expressing opposition of certain policies since Megawati took power in 1999.

In October last year, two young Jakartans were jailed for a year after they were seen stomping on the pictures of Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz. In January, an activist in Aceh was sentenced to six months in prison for painting an "X" over their posters.

On Wednesday, the South Jakarta District Court ruled that Kiastomo, a student from Jayabaya university, was guilty because he burned an effigy of the president.

"The defendant, therefore, is guilty of the crime of insulting the president," Judge Rohendi announced.

The judges dismissed Kiastomo's arguments that the burning of the effigy was a form of critical expression.

"Criticizing by burning (the effigy), which is violence, is not known in the country's culture," Rohendi asserted.

The rally was staged on July 26, 2002 outside the campus of IISIP institute in the Lenteng Agung area of South Jakarta.

The sentence term given by the judges was less than the one- year jail term sought by prosecutor Salimi.

Kiastomo would actually have been freed based on time spent in jail before the trial -- from the end of July 2002 until January this year.

However, Kiastomo and his lawyers refused to accept the guilty verdict and requested an appeal to the High Court.

"I will not accept the verdict, even if they sentenced me for one day," he said.

Insulting the President or Vice-President is on the books as a criminal offense as stipulated in Article 134 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum penalty of six years in jail.

A number of other people around the country are also currently on trial for similar charges, most of whom are students.