A Test for the Judicial System

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThere are indications the trial of Islam Defenders Front leader Rizieq Syihab is rife with interests outside law enforcement. The authority of the courts is at stake.

    The way the prosecution charged Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Syihab with three crimes and 18 criminal offenses seems excessive. Even more so given the prosecution charges are broad and wide - ranging from initially merely about violation of quarantine measures to currently encompassing his act of spreading fake news that led to disturbances. The seemingly arbitrary charges have led to suspicions that Rizieq's trial is more about political interests than law enforcement.

    Rizieq was declared a suspect over his involvement in a gathering at Petamburan, Central Jakarta; a gathering at Megamendung, Bogor, West Java, and the issue of a swab test at the Ummi Hospital, Bogor. For reasons of security and convenience, the Supreme Court decided that all three cases would be tried simultaneously at the East Jakarta state court. The first trial and reading of charges was held online. But because Rizieq filed objection, the judges ruled the subsequent trials would be held in person.

    Since the police began handling the case, there has been a strong impression that investigators wanted to use every legal means possible against Rizieq. This included detaining him under Article 160 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum punishment of six years in jail. Rizieq was charged under this article for incitement that led to a gathering at Petamburan. This charge is premature because the police have yet to prove any crime was committed as a result of this gathering -- which is a pre-condition for employement of this article.

    The long list of charges against Rizieq was only revealed when the charge sheet was read. He was, among other things, charged under the Public Organizations Law because FPI was still active long after the organization's permit had expired. Rizieq's claim that he was the FPI leader was also viewed by the judges as a crime, because the organization was subsequently banned through a joint ruling of three ministers. This charge also feels contrived.

    Another strange charge from the prosecution concerns the spreading of hoax news that led to disturbance linked to the incident at the Ummi Hospital, Bogor. The prosecution based this charge on Rizieq's statement to the media that he was not infected with Covid-19, whereas in fact he had tested positive. Rizieq's conduct triggered a mixed response from the public. No matter what disputes occurred on social media as a result of this lie, the move by the prosecution to use this article which carries with it a maximumsentence of 10 years imprisonment, is clearly excessive.

    This is not the first time Rizieq's actions have ended in criminal charges. In early 2017, the police charged him with seven offences, from alleged indecent conversations to incitement to hatred.All this arose after Rizieq led the huge 411 and 212 demosntrations in Jakarta to demand the then Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama be prosecuted for blasphemy. However, Rizieq "was allowed" to fly to Saudi Arabia a month before he was named suspect for the purported indecent conversations. The police later halted all investigations in cases involving him. It was clear the law was being used for political aims. Now it would appear the same things is repeating itself.

    Therefore, the authority of our legal system is at stake. The panel of judges must pass judgement on prosecution charges solely based on law enforcement considerations. If necessary, the judges could ask the prosecution to focus on proving the main charges against Rizieq without straying into charges that seem arbitrary.

    On the other hand, Rizieq and his supporters must respect the judicial process. Even though the request for an in-person trial has been granted, there must be no mass demonstrations or disturbances during the proceedings. Rizieq's attorney was correct to apologize for shouting at the judges and prosecutors, but it would be better if this does not recur in the future.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine