07/09/2019, 14.06
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Victim of harassment, female teacher convicted of defamation asks Widodo for a pardon

by Mathias Hariyadi

Baiq Nuril Maknun, 38, has become the face of the #MeToo movement in Indonesia. Next week, she will start to serve a six-month prison sentence and will have to pay a fine of 500 million Indonesian rupiahs. The Supreme Court confirmed her conviction for recording and making public the sexual harassment by the headmaster of her school.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Sentenced to prison for recording a conversation with her alleged harasser, a teacher from Mataram, the largest city on Lombok Island and capital of the province of West Nusa Tenggara (NNT), has asked Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo for a pardon.

For the past few days, Indonesian public opinion has been caught up with the case of 38-year-old Baiq Nuril Maknun (pictured), who has become the face of the country’s #MeToo movement.

Next week, Maknun will start to serve a six-month prison sentence after she was convicted of defamation, plus a fine of 500 million Indonesian rupiahs (around US$ 35,000). A presidential pardon is her last hope, since she has exhausted all other legal venues.

Her story embodies the fears of many Indonesian women, that of being brought to court or silenced in a libel case over sexual harassment.

The facts date back to 2012, when Maknun worked at the SMAN 7 high school in Mataram. One day, she received a phone call from the headmaster, a Muslim, identified only by the initial M.

The conversation started off with work issues, but eventually turned into a sexually explicit description of an encounter the headmaster had had with another woman. For Maknun, this was becoming harassment and she decided to tape the call.

Eventually, colleagues accused her of having a romantic relationship with the headmaster. To end the gossip, Maknun decided to play them the tape. In 2015, the audio began to circulate in the close community of Mataram.

The headmaster filed a defamation suit at the local police station against Maknun. The charges include taping and making public the phone call in violation of a controversial law on information and electronic transactions.

The law bans intentionally distributing, transmitting or making available to other people electronic information that contains insults or defamation. Maknun did not make the recording public, a former colleague by name of Imam did.

The Mataram District Court found her not guilty of defamation in July 2017. Prosecutors appealed the decision before the regional court, which overturned the ruling.

The last chapter of the legal case ended on 5 July when the Indonesian Supreme Court (Mahkamah Agung) issued a final decision in September 2018.  Justices Margono, Desniyati and Suhadi rejected the request for a new trial.

The Supreme Court’ decision has drawn harsh criticism from the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), a Jakarta-based research institute promoting judicial reforms and democracy since 2007.

The organisation notes that the panel of justices did not treat the woman in accordance with her status as a "victim" of sexual harassment. The activists also slammed the regional court, accused of failing to take into account the fact that the defendant did not make the content of the audio tape public.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasan terhadap Perempuan or Komnas Perempuan), an independent government agency set up by presidential decree in 1998, also expressed its disappointment.

Sri Nurherwati, one of its members, said that the sentence was unfair given that the legal grounds for the trial were not relevant.

As for Maknun, she said that “As an Indonesian citizen, I can now place my hopes only in the Father of the nation, President Widodo”. At the same time, she would like to see the Ministry of Law and Human Rights intervene.

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