Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | 15:17 WIB

INDONESIA’S ‘TRIAL OF THE CENTURY’ A major agenda for police reform

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Jakarta, IO – The “cop murder” saga was finally concluded, with the disgraced former Chief of the Internal Affairs Division of the Indonesian National Police (Div Propam), Ferdy Sambo, sentenced to death over the premeditated homicide of his aide-de-camp Yosua Hutabarat (popularly known as “Brigadier J”). This entire drama must be accorded an appreciation. The case has been packed with drama and unexpected twists and turns, from the convoluted initial investigation which saw the perpetrators hastily attempting to cover up the murder by concocting false evidence (sexual assault against the wife of the Internal Affairs Div. Chief), manipulating witnesses and destroying evidence, the fearless persistence of the victim’s family in demanding justice, to massive public attention and almost non-stop media coverage. The case illustrates how dangerous it can be when those with great power in the criminal justice system go rogue and become unrestrained, allowing them to boldly abuse their authority in the attempt to evade justice. 

On January 18 of the new year the South Jakarta District Court also sentenced the other defendants: Ferdy Sambo’s wife Putri Candrawati received 20 years, Putri’s chauffeur Kuat Ma’ruf 15 years, Ferdy Sambo’s aide-de-camps; Ricky Rizal to 13 years and Richard Eliezer (the shooter/executioner) to 1.5 years’ incarceration. Richard’s verdict is final as the prosecution and his legal counsel decided not to appeal, while the legal process against the others will continue, as the prosecution appealed their sentences. 

Of these verdicts, those handed down to Ferdy Sambo and Richard Eliezer are the most interesting to be discussed. It is clear that in this case, public opinion – shaped by intense and massive media coverage – is quite strong in favor of a certain stance, namely, to punish Sambo with the heaviest sentence possible and, conversely, to give Richard the most lenient punishment. The author is of the view that public pressure during the trial should be discouraged because it can potentially interfere with the independence of the judiciary. Many consider “the court of public opinion” as demanding the death penalty for Ferdy Sambo, as the people want to see justice served, even though it actually reflects the phenomenon of “penal populism” which aims to exploit public anger or emotion to sway court rulings. 

Justice Collaborator 

The light sentence given to Richard Eliezer was inseparable from his willingness to become a “friendly witness” or justice collaborator (JC). In their rulings, the judges expressly acknowledged Richard’s role and stated how significant his testimony was in revealing the conspiracy behind the case. Richard provided key information that led to the unraveling of Ferdy Sambo’s scenario and his attempt to pervert the course of justice. A light sentence was his “reward”. 

The prosecution, along with the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) have also accorded Richard special treatment during the judicial process. His role as a JC was mentioned as one of the mitigating circumstances in his verdict. This was a significant reduction from what the prosecution initially asked – a sentence of 12 years of imprisonment. On the contrary, Putri, Kuat and Ricky each saw their sentences increased, up from the prosecution’s demand of 8 years. 

Concerned that the court might not properly reward a JC, several prominent civil rights organizations including the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), PILnet and ELSAM presented their arguments as amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court) to the judges who handled the case in late January 2023. This was soon followed by an alliance of 122 academics, offering their impartial advice in connection with Richard’s role as a JC. 

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