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In Indonesia, reporting sexual harassment can get a woman jailed - as Baiq Nuril Maknun's case shows

South China Morning Post - July 17, 2019

Resty Woro Yuniar – An Indonesian woman who received a six-month jail sentence for recording a lewd phone call from her boss has been given a reprieve by President Joko Widodo, in a case that has highlighted how women in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation struggle with legal recourse when they are sexually harassed.

Baiq Nuril Maknun, 41, a school administrator from the city of Lombok, an hour's flight from Bali, is now waiting for the Indonesian parliament to approve Widodo's decision.

If it is granted, the mother of three would be the first person to push back against Indonesia's controversial 2008 information and electronic transactions (ITE) law that activists say overreaches and compromises victims of harassment.

The law is vague and gives police broad discretion to decide what types of circulated content can be deemed defamatory and indecent. Past cases in which it has been applied include a woman who shared a meme making fun of a prominent politician's attempt to avoid anti-corruption investigators and a popular musician being jailed after calling a group of Widodo's supporters "idiots" in a video.

In Nuril's case, she was given a six-month jail sentence and slapped with a 500 million rupiah (US$35,880) fine by the Supreme Court for recording the school principal's sexually suggestive phone calls.

Her troubles started after the principal, a man named Muslim, tried to aggressively court her in 2013. She grew increasingly desperate when he would not stop trying to engage her in lewd conversations in person and over the phone, one of which she recorded.

Nuril confided in a friend about the recording, which soon spread and eventually snowballed into a defamation charge in 2015 brought against her by Muslim, who also sacked her from the school.

She was detained for nearly four months in 2017 before a local court ruled she was innocent. But prosecutors appealed the verdict and the Supreme Court upheld the sentence earlier this month after rejecting her request to review the case. The publicity around her case spawned a crowdsourcing effort to help her pay the fine.

In a letter to Widodo requesting a pardon, Nuril described being driven to despair after Muslim "repeatedly terrorised" her, "not just through phone calls, but in person too".

"I was summoned to his office, but I certainly do not have to tell you in detail what my boss said or showed to me. One day I couldn't stand it any more, so I recorded what he told me on the phone," Nuril said. "I really didn't have the intention to spread it. I'm just an ordinary person, I was just trying to keep my job so I could help my husband to pay for our children's expenses."

The ITE law was intended to protect the country's 171 million internet users but women's rights activists say it contains ambiguously worded articles that have been used by authorities to sue victims of sexual harassment and violence such as Nuril. Women account for 47.5 per cent of internet users in Indonesia.

"Our law enforcers lack sensitivity and understanding when it comes to sexual harassment and violence cases," said Dhyta Caturani, founder of Jakarta-based women's rights activists collective PurpleCode.

"Nuril's case shows they aren't siding with the victims and punish them instead. This is how Indonesia's law enforcement view the victims of sexual harassment and violence, so I won't be surprised to see if there will be other Nurils in the future."

In 2016, lawmakers revised the law, but left the much criticised articles intact. Among the revisions was a lowered maximum jail time for defamation offences, down from six to four years, and a reduction in the maximum fine to 750 million rupiah (US$53,820).

Following the public spotlight on Nuril's case, Indonesian MPs have said they are open to revising the law again, although they have yet to specify how.

Last year, the country recorded 292 cases related to the ITE law, up from 140 cases in 2017, with defamation and hate speech the most common charges, according to data from the Supreme Court.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women noted there were at least 97 reported cases of cyber violence against women last year, up from 65 in 2017. These cases varied from online defamation to grooming, harassment, hacking and infringement of privacy.

The commission said the real number could be even higher as cyber harassment often goes unreported by victims. Overall, there were more than 406,000 reported cases of violence against women in Indonesia last year, increasing from more than 348,000 in 2017, data from the commission shows.

"The implications [of Nuril's case] are very bad, many victims of sexual harassment won't speak up as they fear retaliation or even incarceration," said Ellen Kusuma, a coordinator at the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network's (Safenet) gender-based violence division in Jakarta. "Now, if they wanted to report sexual harassment they will have to be accompanied by legal aid organisations that can help with the case."

Nuril's is not the first Indonesian female victim of sexual harassment to be sued by a man. Last year, a student in Surabaya posted on Facebook about how she had been harassed by a man during a raid on a house where human rights in Papua province were being discussed. The student was later reported for defamation and her case is ongoing.

Another woman in Bandung was jailed for five months in 2015 after her ex-husband hacked into her Facebook account and took screenshots of an intimate conversation between her and another man. In 2012, a doctor in the city of Tangerang near Jakarta was jailed for five months and lost her job after describing in an email to colleagues how a fellow doctor tried to rape her in 2006.

Then there is the stigma. In a patriarchal society such as Indonesia's, victims of sexual harassment still think twice before approaching police to avoid being labelled promiscuous or indecent.

"When victims do report their harassment cases, they will potentially get the stigma surrounding sexual harassment... that's why Nuril recorded the call because she didn't want to be harassed any more," said Mutiara Ika Pratiwi, chairwoman at Jakarta-based gender equality advocacy group Perempuan Mahardhika. "It's clear that her case is verbal sexual harassment, but she was fired anyway."

Women's rights activists say they will push for a long-stalled sexual violence bill to be brought forward. The bill's opponents include conservative religious groups who argue forced sexual activities between a husband and wife should not be deemed sexual violence.

"The state is very slow in recognising women's rights. They were slow in absolving Nuril of her offence and they've been slow in legalising the sexual violence bill, it's been five years already," Mutiara said.

Although activists welcome the planned revision of the ITE law, many doubt it will ensure full protection of women.

"Cases like Nuril's would be an eye-opener for our society that this online violence does exist," said Dhyta of PurpleCode. "Online and real-life violence against women are rooted in misogyny in our patriarchal society. Our law enforcement employs a bad perspective about women in the first place, that's why it's hard for them to side with women in sexual harassment cases."

Source: https://www.scmp.com/print/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/3018886/indonesia-reporting-sexual-harassment-can-get-woman-jailed