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Mock trial that leads to injustice
Nurkholis Hidayat, Jakarta
The Serang District Court in Banten recently cleared 12 defendants of the primary charge of inciting hatred and mob violence, but found them guilty of “participation in a violent attack that results in casualties”, in the act of violence that left three Ahmadiyah followers killed in Cikeusik village last February.
The court handed down light sentences of between three and six months in jail for each of the men, even though they were charged under a crime that carries a jail term of up to seven years. Ten of the defendants, including cleric Ujang Muhammad Arif, who allegedly provoked the attack, were sentenced to six months in jail each. One defendant, Idis bin Mahdani, received five months and 15 days in prison, while juvenile defendant Dani bin Misra was sentenced to three months in prison.
They all avoided other charges, including illegal possession of sharp weapons, destruction of property, mistreatment of others, participation in an assault, involvement in an attack and attack on others that causes serious injury or death.
As predicted, the verdict failed to deliver justice for the victims. From the beginning, the trial looked as if it was intended to fail and be merely a mock trial. There are, at the very least, several indicators of this assumption, as follows:
First, state prosecutors leveled very weak indictments against the defendants. There was a mixture of charges, including public incitement, destruction of property and maltreatment of others and attacks on others that cause serious injuries or death. However, none of the defendants were charged with murder or manslaughter despite the slaying of three Ahmadis.
Second, there was a lack of examination of witnesses and evidence. During the process of examination, neither the prosecutors nor judges presented appropriate evidence and witnesses. Often the judges raised biased questions during their examination of witnesses and the defendants.
During the investigation process, the police interrogated more than 90 witnesses, including 12 from the Ahmadi side. However, almost all the Ahmadi witnesses were not presented in court, resulting in an unbalanced examination that favored the defendants and their defense lawyers.
Third, the judges handing down light sentences. The law authorizes judges to mete out heavier sentences than the jail term sought by the prosecution. In reality, the judges hearing the Cikeusik case did not have the space to hand down heavy sentences because prosecutors had sought a light sentence in the first place when they said Ahmadiyah members partly provoked the attack by gathering in the village. The prosecutors’ argument was compounded by video footage shot by an Ahmadi that was distributed via the Internet.
The sentence was consistent with the police’s version of events as, during the investigation, they always blamed the Ahmadis for provoking the attack.
State prosecutors also recommended light sentences on the grounds that the defendants are Muslim clerics who are respected by the community. The judges could have rejected the prosecutors’ arguments, which were not relevant to the charges and facts during the examination process.
The question is: should judges consider a community’s view respecting criminals, who assume that their acts are right? If yes, which community? Is it correct to pander to an intolerant community while neglecting the wider public, who were shocked by the tragedy?
By accepting the prosecutors’ arguments, the judges have legitimized the notion that the defendants’ positions in society cannot be evaluated, and they can evade justice because of their status.
Above and beyond the misguided judicial process, the trial was subjected to intimidation and sociopolitical pressure from religious groups. From the beginning, police and prosecutors had mentioned that all the defendants would be released before Idul Fitri, which will fall at the end of August. In order to realize this aim, the trial was conducted quickly, with hearings held twice a week, and without any serious effort on the part of the prosecution to uncover the truth behind the tragedy.
The trial was only a formality without any interest in providing justice for the victims.
The National Police chief and the Attorney General also contributed to the mock trial. For a case that attracted a deal of national attention as well as from the international community, the indictment and prosecution of the defendants might have been known and approved by the country’s two most senior law enforcers.
As a result of this trial, the judiciary has failed to provide a deterrent effect to similar would-be perpetrators, and other intolerant groups, who will potentially follow suit. There is no guarantee of non-repetition in the future. Intolerant groups will feel safe to commit violent crimes.
Another consequence is that people will lose their faith in, and respect for, the law. This is not the first time that radicals who committed violence received lenient sentences. In June, Syihabuddin was sentenced to one year in prison for inciting a riot in Temanggung that led to the burning of three churches.
In 2008, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab was sentenced to 18 months in prison by the Central Jakarta District Court for inciting hatred and instigating violence against participants of a peace rally at the National Monument (Monas). In these cases too, all those law enforcement officers involved with the trials failed to maintain their independence and impartiality.
The lasting consequence is the continuance of impunity. Although the video footage of the attack showed that many actors were involved in the Cikeusik attack, the police concluded that the case was closed after the 12 defendants were brought to trial. It means other perpetrators will be safe and untouchable.
In a final twist, Ahmadi follower Deden is being tried on multiple charges which include incitement, disobeying police orders and maltreatment. The crimes carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison if convicted. Deden may emulate Yamin, an Ahmadi who was found guilty of maltreatment in the Cisalda case.
The weak law enforcement against intolerant groups portrays a paradox within a reformed Indonesia.
The writer is the director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute.