In a mind-boggling example of the Indonesian justice system, a search and rescue volunteer who spent more than 100 days behind bars for possessing a weapon — a Rp 45,000 ($5) pocketknife — was on Monday cleared of all charges.
It took more than six months and nine hearings for the Sleman District Court in Yogyakarta to acquit Arief Johar Cahyadi Permana, 24, a university student who had volunteered to help search and rescue efforts during last year’s eruptions of Mount Merapi.
Arief was arrested by the Sleman Police on Nov. 23 at a roadblock after he was found to be carrying the pocketknife. He was charged with violating the 1951 Emergency Law on possession of weapons. Arief was returning home after helping with search and rescue efforts when he was arrested. He spent 105 days behind bars before his appeal to be released from detention was granted on March 8.
The court ruled that the prosecution’s indictment had been proven, but that Arief was not guilty of a crime. “From the facts and statements of witnesses, it was revealed in court that the defendant’s act of carrying a sharp weapon, or a multi-tool pocketknife, was not a crime, because at the time the defendant had just returned from helping to burn cow caracasses on the slopes of Merapi,” Suratno, the presiding judge, said in reading out the verdict.
Arief’s release and the statement of the presiding judge were altogether good news for the SAR team and other volunteers. As it happened, hundreds people inside and outside the courtroom welcomed the decision with applause and cheers. Arief’s parents, who were among the audience, expressed their gratitude to God with tears.
Hendardi, a lawyer and activist from the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, said Arief could sue for wrongful arrest and investigation. “The police should not have been so insensitive as to detain a person for such a long time when the matter could have been resolved quickly,” he said.
“Also, I was not aware that carrying a folded pocketknife was a crime in this country.”
“Arief will undergo a legal remedy for his reputation. We lawyers will also seek a judicial review so that we will have better laws for similar cases in the future,” said Ari Sinto Wibowo, the head of Arief’s lawyer team of 13.
Chief of SAR Yogyakarta Brotoseno said he would take up the lawyers’ cause to the Constitutional Court. “We will file the judicial review to the Constitutional Court with a hope that they will then evaluate whether the emergency regulations need to be revised or even abolished, as they are no longer relevant,” he explained.
After all, Arief, who was defended for free by a team of 13 lawyers, can now feel relieved. He can continue his study at the Islamic University of Indonesia, which has been paused for a semester because of the lawsuit. Arief also said he was not thinking of giving up his work as a SAR volunteer and would be happy to stay involved in the humanitarian effort.
“This is a valuable experience not only for me, but also for my fellow volunteers. Somehow, we need to use knives in doing our thing. But given today’s verdict, we need not to worry about it anymore,” the young man said.
Read the earlier story on Arief here