Novy Lumanauw, Jakarta – Providing a glimmer of hope to a movement against sexual abuse in Indonesia, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo promised on Friday to swiftly resolve the case involving Baiq Nuril Maknun, who received a prison sentence for recording lewd comments by a man who sexually harassed her.
The Supreme Court last week refused Baiq Nuril's request for a case review, forcing her to serve a six-month prison sentence, which will increase to nine months if she is unable to pay a Rp 550 million ($39,000) fine.
The woman's attorney and human rights activists have called on the president to grant her amnesty as a last resort.
"My attention, since the beginning of this case, has not diminished. But once again, we must respect the Supreme Court's ruling," Jokowi said, adding that he had yet to receive a copy of the verdict.
But he promised to expedite a resolution of the case once he has completed all the required paperwork.
"There are already recommendations from the relevant ministries. I will decide as soon as possible and will put an end to this as soon as possible," he said.
Baiq Nuril was sexually harassed by the principal of a high school in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, where she worked as a teacher. Feeling insecure, she recorded one of his improper telephonic conversations with her. The recording later leaked out after she shared it with friends to convince them of her story. This prompted the principal to report her to police, who charged her with defamation.
The principal lost his job at the school but still works in the city's education department.
A movement among Indonesia women against sexual abuse has been gaining momentum over the past few years but it also faces challenges from the country's conservative political forces.
Early this year, the House of Representatives put on hold a discussion on a bill that would criminalize verbal sexual abuse after Islamic groups objected, claiming that the law would also legitimize extramarital and same-sex relationships.
Baiq Nuril's case has shown that Indonesian women are still at a great disadvantage when it comes to sexual abuse.
Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly earlier said the government recognized the condition and would try to implement a more progressive law to prevent Baiq Nuril from being imprisoned.
He said if Nuril did not receive amnesty, "hundreds of other women who were victims of sexual violence would no longer dare to speak out."
The minister said he would recommend a presidential pardon for Baiq Nuril, adding that he would also lobby the House to consider an amnesty, although the 1954 Emergency Law, which regulates such matters, only requires a written recommendation from the Supreme Court.
So far, amnesty has only been granted to political prisoners as a group and never to an individual. But the law also does not specify the crimes that may be pardoned.