By: Ainur Rohmah

Recently a teacher named Baiq Nuril Maknun on Indonesia’s Lombok island was repeatedly sexually harassed by indecent telephone calls from the school’s principal, who often called her to his office to take about his affairs with yet another woman, and over and over asked her to join him in a hotel room for a tryst.

The case has attracted huge attention across the country for what happened next and raised awareness that as many as a third of women have been targeted with physical or sexual violence, with little recourse to justice according to a recent government survey

Nuril recorded the conversation, and an associate used the recording to lodge a complaint with school circles and the local education agency, prompting the removal of the principal, a Muslim, from his post. Outraged Muslims then reported Nuril to the police for allegedly violating Indonesia’s ITE Law governing the recording and transmission of telephone conversations. But although a district court freed Nuril from all charges, the prosecutor appealed to the Supreme Court, which last week sentenced Nuril to six months in prison and fined her Rp500 million (US$33,749) or face an additional three months in jail if she failed to pay.

Activists, legislators, artists and others posted thousands of objections on social media with the hashtag #SaveBuNuril, appealing to President Joko Widodo for justice. More than 2,500 people have contributed to a fundraising campaign on the website Kitabisa to help her pay. Nearly Rp300 million has been collected since the campaign was launched five days ago.

“I don’t want to stay silent while Mrs. Nuril is jailed. I want to ask you to stand by Mrs. Nuril and talk about her case in discussions, seminars, or even theatrical stages where you live. Let’s together help Mrs. Nuril’s struggle for justice,” said the campaign initiator, Anindya Joediono, on the fundraiser’s page.

“This is a mirror of our legal institutions which again failed to protect women who were victims of sexual harassment. We were supposed to be protected, instead made criminals,” said Anindya, who is also the secretary of the Association of Victims of the ITE Law (PAKU ITE).

Nuril is not alone. The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) found that in at least 37 cases, 19.37 percent of 190 recorded, have dragged women into court with over alleged violations of the ITE Law over the past decade. Most cases are not legally feasible and hurt the principle of justice.

Today, things are changing. Sexual violence against women in Indonesia, a traditional male-dominated society, is sparking public outrage and raising the profile of the western #MeToo movement in public spaces, along with demands that the government and law enforcement develop pro-victim rules and follow them.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women, or Komnas Perempuan (KP), in its latest annual report notes that reported cases of sexual violence have been rising every year, from 221,752 in 2015 to 259,150 in 2016, and then sharply to 348,446 in 2017.

Cyber-based violence against women is also increasingly common, the commission found, including online and offline persecution, threats of criminalization of women via the use of the draconian law on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE Law), sexual exploitation of girls, and exploitation of women’s bodies in cyberspace.

“Cyber-based violence has emerged massively but there’s a lack of reporting and handling of the cases. Even though crimes can have a lasting impact, which is victimization that can be potentially lifelong, perpetrators have more room to be left untouched because our legal system is not yet capable of preventing and handling it,” Komnas wrote in a report released earlier this year.

Increasing Islamic conservatism in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, has also raised the numbers of sites and apps under the guise of religion, for example including the popular ayopoligami.com,  a website with the mission of facilitating polygamy, and nikahsiri.com,  facilitating unregistered marriage.

“In 2017, the politicization of spirituality and religion for sexual exploitation increasingly illustrates how women’s bodies continue to face the threat of sexual violence and exploitation” Komnas said.

The commission also noted that often public officials and community leaders are actually perpetrators of violence while others have issued comments blaming the victims, especially rape victims. Instead of getting protection and access to justice, victims of sexual abuse often criminalized, the commission said.

“The culture of blaming victims and making women the parties responsible for sexual violence that they experience continues to this day,” the commission said. “Women are being blamed and bullied, including in the context of infidelity, polygamy and other marital crimes while the main actors have actually escaped from social judgment.”

Recent Cases

Several cases of sexual harassment without proper handling have recently been made public, sparking public outrage and raising a massive campaign to demand justice for the victims. Earlier this month a student from the prestigious university of Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta, known under the pseudonym Agni, was reportedly sexually abused by her colleague during field studies on Seram, Maluku Island, in June 2017. The alleged chronology of rape was first revealed by the Balairungpress,  a student publication, in an investigative report, with details about the alleged lack of speedy and appropriate action by the university.

Instead of punishing perpetrator, according to the report, the university actually allowed him to remain a student and gave him the opportunity to graduate. Some officials actually blamed the victim, asserting that she provided the opportunity to be raped.

This provoked the anger of the community, especially through social media, echoing the hashtag #ShameUGM and criticizing the campus as not taking sides with survivors of sexual violence. Hundreds of UGM students, lecturers and employees also promoted solidarity for Agni through demonstrations and campaigns on social media demanding that the University take action.

A petition also was launched on Change.org urging the campus to take sterner action against male students and set up better policies for sexual assault incidents. More than 178,000 have signed the petition since it was launched two weeks ago.

The case also led to discussions about other alleged sexual harassment occurring other campuses besides UGM without justice or even help for the victims. After the story went viral, the police are investigating the case in collaboration with UGM, which has formed an internal investigation team.

“I don’t think it is too difficult to conduct an investigation, witnesses still exist, the scene is clear and others,” said Yogyakarta police chief Brigadier General Ahmad Dofiri. “The most important thing is that the victim does not become a victim for the second time like being bullied and humiliated, because her disgrace will spread. This is actually not supposed to happen, but she has experienced this,” he said.

“At present many women are reluctant to report cases of sexual violence for fear of being criminalized, said Azriana R. Manalu, thechairperson of Komnas Perempuan. “Let alone seeing the Court’s ruling on Nuril, this could threaten women who intend to disclose their cases.”

The Commission urges the House of Representatives and the Government to immediately discuss and ratify the draft Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence to answer the needs of victims and prevent the same incidents in the future.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) said in its statement that there were two options Nuril could take to be free, namely to file a judicial review to the Supreme Court and seek amnesty from the president.

ICJR Executive Director Anggara Suwahju said the president should issue the amnesty in order to restore public confidence that had been hurt by the Supreme Court’s decision, and could encourage women who were victims of sexual violence to report their problem. Nuril’s attorney plans to file a review. However, Nuril is still due to go to jail in the near future.