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The church defender arrested

Jakarta Post Editorial - January 15, 2022

Jakarta – What a sad twist of political career for Rahmat Effendi, who as Bekasi mayor earned an iconic status as a true defender of freedom of religion. It was reduced to almost nothing after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested him for allegedly accepting bribes during a sting operation on Jan. 5.

Now, he joins dozens of regional leaders who have faced justice for abuse of power and misappropriation of state money to enrich themselves or their circles.

Just over a week after apprehending Rahmat, KPK investigators nabbed Penajem Paser Utara regent Abdul Gafur Mas'ud on Thursday, also in connection with bribery.

The double arrests only show the KPK remains the vanguard of corruption eradication in the country, despite the fact that the legislative and executive powers have weakened it through revision of the KPK Law and its leaders, including its chairman Firli Bahuri, are facing a credibility crisis.

The KPK under Firli has also been subject to widespread criticism for orchestrating the dismissal of top investigators who were reportedly running after the powerful.

Catholics, a minority in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, recall Rahmat for his bravery in resisting pressures and even physical threats from Islamic hard-line groups to defend Santa Klara Church in North Bekasi. Rahmat inaugurated the church on Aug. 11, 2019, ending the local Catholic community's 21 years of waiting to have their own place of worship.

The Golkar politician, a Muslim, won national and international praise for his courage to protect the minority group. The church construction had met all legal requirements, but the hard-line groups simply did not want to see the church built.

"I could hardly speak. Twenty-one years is an unbelievably long wait. The people eventually can get a just and fair service from the state," Rahmat, which means blessing in Arabic, told the church congregants.

But last week the KPK named him a graft suspect. The investigators seized about Rp 5 billion (US$345,000) from the mayor, who is believed to have received it from businesspeople in return for his preferred treatment in procurement and land acquisition projects. Rahmat is also accused of collecting money from local bureaucrats who desired promotion or better posts at the Bekasi City office.

Rahmat, 57, was named acting mayor in 2012 to replace Mochtar Mohammad who was convicted of corruption. The year after, Rahmat won the election and secured his second term nearly unchallenged in 2018.Rahmat's arrest may not catch the public by surprise. There have been other "exemplary" regional leaders who have fallen into the same trap; they could not resist the temptation of wealth and they had to pay back people, groups or political parties who helped them gain power.

Last November the Jakarta Corruption Court found former South Sulawesi governor Nurdin Abdullah guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced him to five years' imprisonment. Previously Nurdin was regarded as one of Indonesia's most promising future leaders because of his clean track record and vision.

Rahmat certainly wants justice; he can exhaust all legal measures to defend himself, including through appeals and a case review if the court convicts him. But justice will be served only if the KPK goes after bigger fish, that will also prove the findings of recent surveys, that the country fails to perform on corruption eradication, wrong.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/01/14/the-church-defender-arrested.htm