23 November 2009
Justice -- Indonesian Style?
Sometimes there are certain events that just leave you shaking your head and saying, "what were they thinking?"
This is one of those moments. In the grand scheme of all things Indonesian the theft of three pods of cacao beans would seemingly rank fairly lowly on the justice meter. This is especially so considering the current turmoil engulfing Indonesia's law enforcement agencies and government with respect to the KPK vs. the police and AGO spat, and the developing mess known as the Bank Century scandal. However, it seems that if you steal three beans then justice is swift, but if you attempt to bribe public officials and / or participate in the suspect use of IDR 6.7 trillion then justice might not be so swift.
Now this is a story of Minah, a 55-year-old woman, who lives in Banyumas, and who helped herself to three cacao bean pods from a local plantation. The total value of her huge haul was about IDR 1,500. To give my non-Indonesian readers an idea of value here, that is about USD 0.15 or AUD 0.18. This is hardly the crime of the century, particularly in the Indonesian context.
However, the plantation and the law enforcement agencies in the relevant area decided that this was the perfect crime for making an example and educating the public about criminal activity, and the need to stop crime in its tracks. I am sure that there are many others out there who would find it hard to believe that this is the crime to educate the masses about the ills of criminal activity.
The Law and Human Rights Minister has gone on the record to suggest that this case is an embarrassment to Indonesia and her law enforcement agencies. Specifically, the Minister believes that law enforcers need to embrace humanitarian principles. Indeed they do, but they should not also turn a blind eye to criminal activity. The question is really one of degree, and particularly how this event of theft could have been dealt with in a more appropriate matter.
Ultimately, the District Court at Purwokerto handed down a 45-day suspended sentence. The sentence stipulates that Minah cannot commit a similar criminal offense within three months from the date of conviction. If she does then she will be required to serve her 45-day sentence.
Probably what the Minister should be more concerned about is that Minah represented herself. The law requires that all people appearing before an Indonesian court be given the opportunity to have legal representation. If an individual is incapable of paying for that legal representation, then it is to be provided on a pro bono basis. And, perhaps even more concerning is the assertion that Minah was encouraged to plead guilty to the crime without legal representation present as the prosecutors stated that it would be easier for her and her treatment would be more lenient.
I do not have a problem with the idea of plea bargaining. However, this needs to be done in a manner that people who have no experience of the legal system are not rail-roaded into making confessions in order to see leniency.
A suspended 45-day sentence is a little harsh for what amounts to an IDR 1,500 theft. This could have been easily settled out of court by getting Minah to pay compensation to the value of the seeds taken. The reason she provided to the court as the motivation for her crime was that she wanted to plant the seeds in order to grow her own cacao plants. Assuming this were true, then the plantation firm missed a perfect opportunity to put together a community cacao development program where the company provides seeds to poor locals, and they could have made Minah the first recipient of that community initiative.
Yet, the infinite wisdom of the pencil-pushing corporate types was, "this is a perfect opportunity for us to educate the masses about small-scale theft!" And, I might add, the perfect opportunity to show the community that we are here only to rape and pillage your land, make large profits, and then leave you with nothing, which sounds a little bit like a public relations nightmare.
With cases like Minah's there is little wonder that Indonesians are generally not convinced that the justice system works fairly for all citizens.