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Jakarta Post

KPK nabs judge presiding over Meiliana blasphemy case

  • Kharishar Kahfi, Apriadi Gunawan and Arya Dipa

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta, Medan and Bandung   /   Wed, August 29, 2018   /   07:12 am
KPK nabs judge presiding over Meiliana blasphemy case Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman Agus Rahardjo. (Antara/Puspa Perwitasari)

A judge at the Medan District Court in North Sumatra, Wahyu Prasetyo Wibowo, was recently under the spotlight when he presided over the controversial blasphemy trial of Meiliana, a Buddhist resident of Tanjung Balai.

The case reached its climax last week when the court sentenced the 44-year-old mother of four to one-and-a-half years in prison for complaining about the volume of the adzan (Islamic call to prayer) from a speaker at a mosque near her house.

On Tuesday, Wahyu’s name returned to the spotlight after he was apprehended by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in an investigation into bribery allegedly involving Medan court officials.

“At least eight people were apprehended during the operation, including judges, court clerks and other parties. Investigators are still working to verify information obtained from citizens,” KPK chairman Agus Rahardjo told The Jakarta Post.

Investigators, he said, had seized an undisclosed sum of cash in Singapore dollar banknotes during the operation.

Medan District Court spokesman Erintuah Damanik said Wahyu, who is the court’s deputy chief, was nabbed along with three other judges — the court’s Chief Judge Marsudin Nainggolan, Judge Sontan Merauke Sinaga and Judge Merry Purba — and two court clerks.

However, whether or not Wahyu was among the KPK’s persons of interests or merely a witness remains unclear as the KPK is still investigating the case.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), which had been vocal in criticizing Meiliana’s conviction, lauded the KPK’s investigation into the possible corruption within the Medan court.

“If a judge can’t resist the urge to accept illicit money, he or she should also be suspected of not being able to resist giving in to pressure. Therefore, he or she is not fit for the job of maintaining the court’s integrity,” ICJR executive director Anggara said.

Previously, many perceived the Medan Court’s guilty verdict against Meiliana as being the result of pressure from the public empowered by the local chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council, which allegedly described Meiliana’s remark as “blasphemous”.

The alleged remark was believed to have triggered riots, during which several Buddhist temples were burned or ransacked. Over a dozen people were sentenced to one to four months in prison for their roles in the riot.

Tuesday’s KPK operation has also brought back old concerns over the integrity of the court and judges, as the KPK suspects the bribery was related to a case being handled by the court.

“[The arrest was] related to a corruption case, in which the judges recently issued a verdict,” KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah said, stopping short of revealing which case it was.

Suspicions point to a corruption case related to land-use rights implicating businessman Tamin Sukardi.

Tamin was sentenced to six years in prison by a panel comprising three of the arrested judges — Wahyu, Sontan and Merry — on Monday, only hours before the KPK launched the operation. The sentence was lighter than the 10 years’ imprisonment demanded by the prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

Although his case was handled by the AGO, Tamin’s trial had been monitored closely by both the antigraft body and the Judicial Commission since May.

Should the antigraft body bring a formal accusation against the judges in Medan, their case would add to the list of court officials to be investigated or prosecuted on corruption allegations by the KPK.

According to data from the KPK’s Anticorruption Clearing House (ACCH), at least 18 judges were prosecuted from 2010 to May 2018.

One of the cases occurred in October 2017, when KPK investigators arrested Manado High Court Judge Sudiwardono for bribery. In June, Sudiwardono was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes that were paid to influence an appellate bench handling a corruption case related to allowances for village officials (TPAPD) in Bolaang Mongondow, North Sulawesi.

The Judical Commission was quick to deplore Tuesday’s arrest, with its spokesman Farid Wajdi saying: “We have been warning heads of courts to minimize the potential for ethical violations. A huge commitment and concrete actions are more important than regulations [to prevent further arrests].”