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Jakarta Post

Appeal for amnesty

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, July 10, 2019   /   09:00 am
Appeal for amnesty Justice in the balance: Protesters gather in Palembang, South Sumatra, in support of Baiq Nuril Makmun, a school teacher from Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, who is facing a six-month jail sentence for defaming her alleged harasser. (Antara/Feny Selly)

A woman recorded a lewd phone call received from her boss. Her friend reportedly spread it to their friends, and the boss, who was fired from his position as a state high school principal in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, sued her for defamation. He won at the Supreme Court, sending a chilling signal that victims of harassment should shut up and avoid further trouble and stigma.

But Baiq Nuril Maknun, the contract employee sentenced to six months and fined Rp 500 million (US$34,650) for defamation and violating the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, is showing the way for victims of harassment in Indonesia and beyond.

Thousands are supporting her only remaining legal avenue, an amnesty from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, as she maintains her innocence, as pronounced by a lower court. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly has pledged to support Baiq in seeking an amnesty by providing legal arguments for the President. Yasonna correctly said failure to support Baiq’s amnesty would make other victims afraid to report their experiences.

While some victims are willing to report physical and nonphysical sexual abuse, most still face a lost cause, with the lack of emphatic and trained law enforcement officials, including police and judges.

In Baiq’s case, some may smirk that she could just endure six months behind bars and move on without so much hullabaloo — but Baiq says she wishes to assert that the sexual advances were unwanted, as she had repeatedly told her boss, Muslim.

As the National Commission for Violence Against Women reiterates, the country urgently needs the sexual harassment bill passed into law. Among other things, this would clear up vagaries by defining several types of sexual harassment and violence and taking into account imbalanced relations of power that suppress victims’ instinct and courage to speak up. None of these are in the Criminal Code, which at best gives perpetrators a slap on the wrist for “indecent behavior”.

Continuous support for Baiq is necessary, as it is but one small part of the struggle to end an overwhelmingly sexist culture despite all our chest-beating of democratic progress. Apart from also overhauling the ITE Law, which has jailed hundreds of people for defamation, police and judges, among others, need continuous enlightening and training to recognize sexual crimes and support victims even though material evidence and witnesses may be lacking.

Yes, a few women may expertly fake rape, for instance, but too many rapists have walked free, including by complying with community pressure to marry the victims, regardless of the latter’s wishes.

Among the encouraging signs in recognizing sexual crimes is a recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of a teenage rape victim earlier accused of undergoing an illegal abortion. The girl from Jambi, who was 15 when she was raped, had been sentenced to six months in jail and three months of community service last year.

Nevertheless, the fight against impunity for sex criminals will last long. For this reason, we hope the ongoing selection of Supreme Court justices brings forth candidates who are poised to deliver justice for victims.