Vento Saudale & Telly Nathalia, Jakarta – The Supreme Court has removed the head judge at the Cibinong District Court in West Java and slapped disciplinary punishment on three other judges for freeing a child sex abuser who raped two underage children, the court said on Tuesday.
A panel of three judges at the Cibinong court – Muhammad Ali Iskandar, Chandra Gautama and Raden Ayu Rizkiyati – dismissed rape charges against a 41-year-old man known by his initials HI on March 28. State prosecutors had demanded a jail sentence of 14 years for the man, who was accused of raping two children aged 14 and 7.
The judges reasoned there were no witnesses in the case.
The Women's Legal Aid Institute (LBH APIK), which has been assisting the two victims, reported the "unfair" judgment to the Judicial Commission and the Supreme Court.
The victims' identities, including their sex, are protected by Indonesian law. LBH APIK has only described that the 14-year-old victim has mental retardation.
LBH APIK also launched an online petition on change.org to get the court to overturn the decision. As of Tuesday evening, more than 154,000 people have signed it.
The Supreme Court responded swiftly to the report from LBH APIK. The court had already issued a new regulation in 2017 that contained directives for judges on handling cases of sexual abuse in court. Aside from examining legal cases, the Supreme Court is also responsible for monitoring judges' behavior.
There have been reports of irregular behavior by the judges during the trial. LBH APIK's online petition mentioned that more than a few times the trial was only attended by one judge, when all three of them should have been present.
It also mentioned that the mother of the victims was refused assistance during her appearance in court as a witness and that the judges let the victims and the defendant appear in the same court room without considering the psychological pressures this would have put on the children.
"The accused was freed despite having confessed to the rape... The judges reasoned there were no witnesses when the rape happened," LBH APIK said in its online petition.
Supreme Court spokesman Abdullah admitted the judges' decision has provoked public furore.
"We received complaints about the case. The Supreme Court then ordered an internal audit to clarify and verify those complaints," Abdullah told BeritaSatu.com on Tuesday.
The court has interviewed individuals involved in the case, according to Abdullah, and in the end decided to give disciplinary sanctions to the three judges who handled the rape case and remove the head of the Cibinong court, Lendriaty Janis.
Lendriaty was removed from her post and replaced by Irfanudin on Tuesday. Abdullah said Lendriaty had failed to educate the junior judges or monitor their behavior during the trial.
"The judges were moved to the Bandung High Court while they were being investigated," Abdullah told JakTV on Tuesday.
The state prosecutors have challenged the verdict from the district court. The case is currently being reviewed at the Bandung High Court.