James Massola, Jakarta – A sexual harassment victim who was jailed under Indonesia's strict defamation laws is set to be pardoned by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Indonesia's national Parliament on Thursday cleared the way for the President to formally grant legal amnesty to Baiq Nuril Maknun, in a high profile case that has drawn international headlines and shone a spotlight on how Indonesia handles sexual harassment cases.
Nuril's legal nightmare began in 2013, when she was working as a bookkeeper at a school in Mataram, the capital of the island of Lombok.
The school's principal, Haji Muslim, was having an affair with a married colleague and he would share with Nuril what she describes as "vulgar details" of the affair.
"I told him to stop, he just continued. Whenever there was only the two of us, he would share graphic details of their sexual acts. He would even pose in their positions for me," she previously told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
"I repeatedly asked him to stop... I didn't know what he did was sexual harassment. Not then, but I know now."
Eventually, Nuril recorded one of the phone calls with her boss. She shared a copy of the recording with the friend of a friend and soon enough, the audio had been widely distributed on social media. In March 2015, the principal reported her to police for defamation under the much-criticised Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) law.Baiq Nuril Maknun, centre, arrives at the Attorney-General's office in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this month.
In March 2017 Nuril was formally charged by police and found not guilty in Mataram's district court. But prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court and in September 2018 she was found guilty, and sentenced to six months in jail and a 500 million Rupiah ($50,000) fine.
Nuril and her husband both lost their jobs, police declined to examine her allegations of sexual harassment, while the principal was promoted.
Joko had previously indicated he was prepared to intervene in Nuril's case and grant her amnesty, but he first wanted all legal processes to be exhausted.
Ahead of the decision to approve the amnesty, Nuril told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Indonesian laws were not protecting women properly.
"We have to be physically assaulted before the law can protect us. That's not protection. Because I have not been physically assaulted by Haji Muslim, he as the perpetrator is untouchable. I recorded the conversation as protection, he was my boss. Who would've believed me? I needed proof," she said.
"I would like to say to other women out there to speak up. Don't be afraid. Don't be a victim."
After the parliamentary vote Nuril's husband, Lalu Isnaini, expressed his relief that his wife would not have to go back to prison and be separated from him and their young children.
"Let there be no more cases like Nuril's case in the future. My wife should be the last one, the ITE law needs to be revised as soon as possible."
Rights groups including Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch have long campaigned for the ITE law, which was introduced in 2008 and which covers everything that happens online including banking transactions, pornography, defamation on social media and hate speech, to be changed.
University of New South Wales Indonesian law expert Melissa Crouch said Nuril's case was a good example of how the ITE law "can be used against the wrong person, the victim rather than the offender". Some civil society groups wanted the ITE law abolished, she said, while others had argued for the penalties for defamation to be scaled back.
"The fact that this case has reached right up to the President's office does suggest that the issue of harassment and violence [physical or verbal] against women is of key concern to the broader public in Indonesia. This might just be Indonesia's MeToo moment," she said.
Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said Nuril should not have spent a single day in jail and that the case demonstrated "the absurdity contained in the ITE Law. This is the right time to revise it radically, particularly the provisions on defamation and blasphemy".
"The President made the right decision by standing on Nuril's side. To formally grant her an amnesty would send a strong message to the police, prosecutors and courts that in the future they should protect victims of sexual harassment instead of criminalising and sending them to jail," Usman said.
– with Karuni Rompies, Amilia Rosa