JAKARTA - The widely-publicized case of Baiq Nuril Maknun, the 41-year-old school bookkeeper sentenced to six months in prison for recording sexually-suggestive phone calls she received from the principal at her school, has gained traction after the Indonesian government indicated a willingness to grant her amnesty - which would eliminate any traces of wrongdoing from her part.
After a meeting in Jakarta with Nuril and her counsel on Monday, Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Minister, Yasonna Laoly, told reporters an amnesty could be announced after Indonesia’s newly-elected president, Joko Widodo, through the state secretariat, discusses the legal proceedings with the House of Representatives. One of Nuril’s lawyers, Joko Jumadi, confirmed to VOA that they will meet with the House of Representatives Wednesday.
“I think it sounds to me like a green light,” he said. “We are optimistic. We have to be.”
Several law experts were also invited to the meeting, one of whom was Bivitri Susanti who confirmed to VOA that the president was indicated to have favored amnesty. Last week, Joko told reporters in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island, that though he would not intervene with the Supreme Court ruling, he advised that Nuril and her counsel apply for amnesty.
Talk of granting Nuril amnesty followed a controversial rejection of Nuril’s appeal from Indonesia’s Supreme Court last week - one that upheld her prison stay and a $35,000 (500 million rupiahs) fine.
Nuril’s case began in 2012, when Muslim (who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name), the newly-minted principal of her school in Mataram, called her repeatedly. In the phone calls, he used sexually inappropriate language and even went as far as to tell her about his own affair with his own treasurer. As word spread suggesting Nuril and Muslim had indeed embarked on an affair, Nuril determined to disprove the rumor to her colleagues by recording the call.
Learning of the recordings, Muslim reported Nuril to the police, citing a clause in Indonesia’s controversial electronic information and transactions law that presides over defamation. Deemed innocent by the local court (though she still went to prison during the investigation) in 2017, the prosecutors took it up with the Supreme Court who later convicted Nuril of defamation in 2018 and sentenced her to a six-month jail time.
Her case has sparked outrage from activists and rights organizations. An online crowd-funding campaign has also been set up to help with Nuril’s fine (she would have to serve an additional three months in prison if she fails to pay the fine).
“From the very beginning, law enforcers have sided with versions of the story from the principal,” Usman Hamid, head of the Indonesia chapter of Amnesty International, told VOA. “They should be protecting Nuril as a victim, not brand her as a [convict].”
Nuril’s case reignited discussions on sexual assault cases. Joko, Nuril’s lawyer, told VOA that the Supreme Court ruling against his client set a “terrible precedent for future reports from sexual assault victims.” Her case came after Indonesia was embroiled in the discourse around the passing of the anti-sexual violence bill, which faced opposition from religious groups.
Amnesty v. clemency
Another potential legal means for Nuril is through clemency, though law expert Bivitri said that it would be unlikely. “Clemency is usually provided to people embroiled in extraordinary cases, say people sentenced to death or for life,” she said.
Amnesty, she said, would be the best way forward. “If the president grants Nuril amnesty, then it could prove that the government protects its citizens while honoring the judicial proceedings.” She added that amnesty would erase her criminal record. In contrast, the granting of clemency would mean that Nuril agreed that she was in the wrong and that she would ask for the leniency of her punishment.
“We don’t see any criminal wrongdoing here from her part,” Usman of Amnesty International said.
Indonesia’s former presidents have previously granted amnesty. In 1959, then president Sukarno granted amnesty and abolition to the people involved in the rebel group D.I/T.I.I. Kahar Muzzakar in South Sulawesi. In 2005, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted amnesty to the separatist movement in Aceh, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka.
“Joko could use this argument: for the sake of peace and humanity,” Usman said, before adding that history shows that amnesty has also been granted to individuals.